Danish punk outfit Iceage reek of rock ethos and testosterone-fueled carelessness. On Thursday, May 7, the band brought its thunderous, guitar-driven sound to Lincoln Hall.
As frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt gazed into the pit, commanding the audience’s attention, the crowd acted like dogs held on leashes during Iceage’s first few songs. Then the band launched into the percussive, chicken-scratch intro to “The Lord’s Favorite,” the tension broke and the audience exploded. Girls with dyed hair and chain necklaces, dudes with rainbow mohawks and dads in button-downs cashing in on their ‘80s punk nostalgia became one while the band glided through their country-inspired hit from 2014’s Plowing Into the Field of Love.
The line between the crowd and the stage became increasingly blurry as Rønnenfelt brought his head inches from the faces of audience members. Iceage tore down the fourth wall, so much so that the microphone cord even caught around people’s necks, roping them into the performance.
Rønnenfelt and bandmates Jakob Tvilling Pless, Dan Kjær Nielsen and Johan Surrballe Wieth tore through fan-favorites from the group’s critically acclaimed 2018 album Beyondless, such as “Hurrah” and “Plead the Fifth.”
On the growling “Pain Killer,” Rønnenfelt, donning a sweat-drenched shirt under a beige suit jacket, delivered a swaggering low-pitched slur. The song is pure rock ‘n’ roll—fast, heavy and driven by a distorted guitar riff. The only thing missing at Lincoln Hall was the horn section that typically completes the song with pop gloss. Sky Ferreira, who sings on the recorded version of the track, bobbed her head in the audience.
Iceage ended with “Catch it,” a tense slow-burner that picks up at the end but left the crowd craving more. (When the band exited the stage after a blunt “thank you,” and the house lights dismissed all hope of an encore, one audience member yelled out, “c’mon!”)
Frankly, Iceage is exactly what rock needs right now: a band that makes music for music fans—not commercialized leather-jacket punk. They’re edgy enough to draw a young crowd but accessible enough for your Clash-loving dad. They’re raucous enough to empower a mosh pit in the front but clean enough for an enjoyable show from the balcony. And they’re distinctive enough to spark critical interest but familiar enough to remind you of times when punk was prominent.
Oakland-born, LA-raised Tim Atlas has become a darling of popular “indie” Spotify playlists like “Indie Rock Road Trip” and “Feel Good Indie.” Inclusion on playlists like these has played a large role in the popularity of his hit song “Compromised,” which currently has over 15 million streams on the platform. With a new project on the horizon, Atlas is headed out on a quick Summer 2019 North American tour and Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago represents his first stop. WNUR was able to talk with Atlas before the show about his well-rounded musical upbringing, plans for the future and how music production is evolving.
Backstage at Schuba’s, 1 ½ hours remain until the show but Atlas seems at ease in the green room as he sips a black coffee. His white T-shirt reveals tattoos that take up the better part of his forearm, one of which is a forest green cactus. The whole picture exudes “California indie-pop singer.”
Growing up, Atlas had a very open mind when it came to music. Each of his family members had their own distinct tastes and he credits multiple artists with impacting his sound.
“My grandparents loved Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, my dad loved the Beatles and Elvis. My mom was into all these power singers like Whitney and Mariah and my sister was, like, locked in her room listening to 90s R&B music. I just kind of liked it all, I was like a sponge.”
Atlas began releasing music to streaming services in late 2013, with his first EP “Lost in the Waiting.” The EP, coupled with various YouTube covers, led to his being discovered by Bay Area talent scouts and appearing on Season 9 of The Voice.
“The producers make you feel like it’s your last chance to do something, so you really give your all when you’re in that moment,” said Atlas of the high-stakes atmosphere. “But after the show is where the challenge is. It’s like ‘do I want to be a dude from a reality show for the rest of my career or do I want to be an actual artist?’”
It’s clear that Atlas chose the latter path. After his departure from the show, he got back into the studio to make three songs, one of which turned into Compromised. This song in particular cemented Atlas as a figure to watch in the indie pop scene.
“[When we made Compromised,] I remember thinking ‘I really hope people fuck with this sound because I want to make this forever. This is the type of music I want to make 10 years from now.’ Luckily, people responded to that song…and ever since, we’ve been pumping out songs in that vein.”
This tour represents Atlas’ 2nd as a headliner. In the past, he has opened for artists like American Pets, Mating Ritual and Daniela Andrade and he hopes to do more opening gigs in the future, a comparatively modest approach when it comes to aspirations. Similarly, he named venues like Los Angeles’ Troubador and Oakland’s Fox Theatre as his ideal shows to play, in favor of more well-known arenas like United Center and Madison Square Garden.
“I want to be opening for artists like Phoenix, Toro Y Moi, and Still Woozy. Those would all be sick support slots,” he said with a smile. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had my head up in the clouds that much where I’ve pictured myself in a stadium. It’s always been maybe, like, thousand-cap venues. Those are where all my favorite bands play, I’m not going to a stadium to see indie bands.”
With a capacity of 165, Schuba’s is definitely on the smaller side when it comes to Chicago venues. Regardless, Atlas received solid crowd support in spite of the show being at the same time as the new episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. “I’m kinda tempted to run off the stage and see what went down [on the show],” he joked.
Two Chicago-based artists kicked things off. Self-described “nu-pop” singer/producer Carlile served as the first opener, holding her own vocally over thumpy club tracks. The EDM production did not shy away from risk-taking, featuring everything from woodpecker noises to a rattling effect reminiscent of the beginning of Monte Booker’s “Kolors ft. Smino.” R&B singer/rapper Rich Jones, a prominent figure in the Chicago music scene, followed. Jones took the stage alone and had some funky production of his own accompanying his nasal, yet soulful voice. He seemed very at ease in his hometown, making conversation with the small crowd that bordered on stand-up comedy. A personal favorite song was “Rainy Days,” which featured the kind of low-key hip-hop production one might see on a Saba song. Jones rode the beat perfectly on this track and even rapped the second verse. Both openers brought strong energy despite an audience on the sparser side.
Atlas’ trademark soft falsetto notes and lush guitar-heavy instrumentation gave his sound a transporting quality live. His set flew by; at times, it felt like it was just him and the audience on a trippy California beach journey. Atlas did a fair amount of experimentation with the set; his performance of “Dive” featured talkbox effects on the chorus that did not appear in the studio version. One tall enthusiastic white guy at the center of the crowd busted out a pretty aggressive toe-tap during the surreal track. He closed things up with a heartfelt, honest sentiment praising the crowd before playing Figure A: “There’s always this fear that you go to a city and like no one shows up.”
After Atlas finishes up the tour, he plans to travel to Southeast Asia in search of inspiration, namely the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“I just want to experience more life, so I can write more. I’ve just been in LA for a while kind of going through the motions and I find myself digging for things to write about,” said Atlas. “It’s been marinating in my mind lately, just to take a step back and be inspired.”
Thanks to technological innovations in music production, Atlas rarely has to wait to record. He has what he calls a “backpack studio” on tap for when inspiration strikes.
“I have a little keyboard, my laptop, and a mic if I’m just trying to do rough ideas. A lot of the stuff on the record, we just held an iPhone up to some drums. There are so many creative ways to record these days, so I don’t think I’m really limited when I’m on the road, not as much as you would think.”
Make sure to keep an eye out for Tim Atlas’ newest project, which he plans to drop this June. Beyond that, who knows? Maybe after some Southeast Asian soul-searching, “The Pho Tapes” will be the next addition to his discography….
Carlile – Spare Me
Rich Jones – Chicagoland
Tim Atlas – Dizzy
Tim Atlas continues on his tour on the Pacific, with dates in LA, Seattle and Vancouver coming up in early June.
Make sure to also catch Rich Jones at Subterranean’s Hoist Fest on Sunday, May 26!
One could compare Northampton crooner Bruno Major to Drake, in the sense that both artists “started from the bottom.” Before getting signed, Major sang covers at Italian restaurants for money. After being dropped by his first label in 2014, he could only afford to tour around in a van. Standing onstage in front of a sold-out Lincoln Hall, he mused about his humble beginnings and expressed gratitude that this time around, he had his own tour bus. The new music Major debuted from his upcoming album represented a sharp pivot from his first project, A Song for Every Moon. While A Song for Every Moon consisted primarily of sad-boy slow jams, he took a risk on the newer tracks by embracing elements of rock music.
Young lovers were abundant in Saturday’s crowd at Lincoln Hall, which makes sense considering Major specializes in love songs. His labelmate Eloise opened the night to a solid audience with a brief, five-song set. Eloise also hails from across the pond and she connected with Major when her cover of “Second Time” caught his attention. Her warm, authentic demeanor prompted fans to shout out “You’re so cute!” in between songs. Her soothing voice seemed to bounce over the guitar and her lyrics painted dainty pictures of her surroundings and told stories of love lost and love found. Her first song, the jazzy, unreleased “Subside,” sounded vocally similar to Madeleine Peyroux and Corinne Bailey Rae. A few devout fans even sang the backup vocals when she played “You Dear,” which made her elated. Eloise may have entered Lincoln Hall a relative unknown, but she left with hundreds of new fans eager for her to release more music.
Bruno Major’s set started off typically. His first two songs evoked the slow-burning feeling that he is known for. Until something changed. In the middle of the coffee shop-type track “Like Someone in Love,” he launched into an electric guitar solo, ramping up to rock concert levels of intensity as the bass elevated and the drums thundered. For a few minutes, he seemed to transform into Slash but seemingly as soon as the high-octane interlude began, he made the seamless transition back into the song’s down-tempo chorus.
One can tell how meticulous Major is during a performance. His plucking of the guitar resembled someone delicately making a finger painting. His intense facial expressions ranged from serious concentration during his low-key guitar solos to open-mouthed intensity on the more rock-influenced moments. He had such command of the audience that when he launched into “Places We Won’t Walk,” the crowd gasped from excitement. The slow, sad song which could tug on the heartstrings of a robot featured a disco ball, couples swaying to the hypnotic rhythm and a whispered “thank you” at the end.
After playing his hit “Easily,” Major treated the audience to a tongue-in-cheek “encore,” where he said with sarcastic charm: “I’m going to leave [the stage] anyway because I have a massive ego and I want you to cheer for me.” To bring the Drake comparison full-circle, he closed the night with a cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
One song to keep an eye out for on Major’s upcoming project is “Nothing,” where his knack for heartwarming lyrics shines through. With precious lines like “We’ll play Nintendo, though I always lose. Cause you’ll watch the TV while I’m watching you,” the audience was won over from the beginning, despite having never heard the song before.
Both Eloise and Bruno Major treated the Lincoln Hall crowd to a jazz-infused, lovey-dovey night this Saturday. Make sure to keep an eye on both artists, as both will be releasing new music this summer.
ELOISE – TTCL
BRUNO MAJOR – Home
Divino Niño had already taken the stage when we entered Thalia Hall. The band was a pleasant surprise and fit in well with the chill vibes of Crumb and their fans. Divino Niño’s lead singer has a deep impressive voice and an adorably awkward personality, addressing the crowd with a charming politeness. The band’s music was familiar-sounding, evoking 60s and 70s psychedelic pop with a modern twist and the inclusion of both Spanish and English lyrics. The band’s set included a cover of How Deep is Your Love? by the BeeGees, nodding to their 70s influence. Lead singer Camilo Medina’s unique voice paired perfectly with the throwback. I was glad to be introduced to this Chicago-based band and have been playing their song Coca-Cola nonstop since.
As we waited for Crumb to take the stage, I observed the crowd, which was pretty much what I expected it to be—young Chicagoans with edgy style and lots of piercings. The crowd was chilled out and clearly eager for the band to come on. Crumb hit it off with their most popular song and the title track of their second EP, Locket. Their music can best be described as lulling and chill, so the crowd spent most of the time swaying, with a few head bangs here and there during the more intense guitar riffs.
Most of the concert was slow, soothing music, but still kept me engaged as the songs were noticeably played with a lot of feeling and talent. The lucky audience at Thalia Hall got to hear some brand new music, including a never-before-played song that was well-received. The band went out with a bang with their most energetic performance of the song Vinta, which included an intense guitar riff at the end.
Crumb seemed as though they could be a college band performing in the local coffee shop. They repeatedly stated how grateful they were to be here and for us “spending a night on Earth” with them. They were low-key and made their music the star of the show, with little choreography. All in all, Crumb’s performance was pretty in keeping with their music–chill, relaxed, and calming. If you’re looking for a band to mosh to, this is probably not what you want, but if you just want to appreciate good live psych-pop and sway to some tranquil tunes, Crumb is perfect.
Hardcore punk and post-hardcore are genres that are flagrantly underrepresented in my personal music library; though I respect the genres, I just don’t listen to them that much. The exception is Fucked Up. Though when they were first recommended to me years ago, because of their name alone I instantly wrote them off as a cringingly edgy, Warped Tour-aspiring pop-punk band. When I found out they were Canadian (home to atrocities like Nickleback), that sealed their fate as a band I would never listen to. It wasn’t until last year in an attempt to overcome my unfair, unwarranted musical prejudices that I gave them another chance. And at the Metro, seeing the band live, I became exceedingly glad I did.
In actuality, Fucked up is possibly the most ambitious current punk band. Live, they are a six-piece act, but on albums, like their 2018 epic Dose Your Dreams, they recruit a plethora of mostly Canadian musicians and singers to collaborate on their tracks, ranging from Colombian-Canadian singer Lido Pimienta to violinist and composer Owen Pallett. Their songs pulsate with the contributions of the large numbers of people that work on them, creating intricate and layered arrangements surrounding big riffs and aggressive vocals. I was curious to see how these studio works would translate live. Before I could get to that, however, was opening act Wooing.
Wooing hails from New York City, and they are a three-piece indie rock/ post-punk band. The band consists of two guitarists and a drummer, eschewing bass for driving guitar lines played on the lower strings. The band excelled in the loud/quiet/loud format perfected by Pixies, and their songs rarely remained static. They were mixed very coherently, so the interplay between the two guitars and lead singer Rachel Trachtenburg was on full display. And yeah, maybe one of their songs sounded a little too much like a slightly more ragged Smells Like Teen Spirit, but overall it was a captivating set of pretty original sounds.
I’d like to reiterate that for Wooing the mix was well balanced, with every noise-making device audible. This was not the case for Fucked Up, who strolled onto the stage after Wooing left with much bulkier amps and three guitarists. They began with the title track off their latest project Dose Your Dreams, which starts with an extended noisy-psychedelic jam over a disco beat and baseline, and after a few minutes the lead singer (screamer) Damian Abraham sauntered onstage and started belting lyrics.
Even though I imagine he would have been shouting at a piercing decibel if he was the only person in the room, he was utterly drowned out by the three-guitar assault to the point that if my eyes were closed I would have thought they were an instrumental band. The whole show was pretty much like this, but while Damian was hard to hear as a lead singer, he was ever present as a hypeman. He has the hardcore frontman handbook memorized, lunging across the stage, thrashing, and looming over the crowd, and overall he helped create an intense, rowdy, but playful atmosphere for the show.
I realized that Fucked Up on album and Fucked Up live are great for different reasons; on album, they are great because they are a complex, catchy, and ambitious band that craft powerful songs which incorporate influences well beyond the traditional hard rock palette, creating concept albums with fully realized narratives. Live they’re great because they play really loud and really fast, and all that other stuff is still probably there but buried and certainly not the focus. Though unfortunately I had to leave before the headliner The Black Lips, I exited the building glad I gave the band another chance despite their name, and wondering if I had about ten years tops of hearing left if I kept going to shows like that.
With lamps adorning the stage and an abundance of dancing, The Slaps’ Friday night EP release of B at Beat Kitchen felt like an intimate house show. The three band members go to DePaul, and The Slaps have gained widespread popularity in Chicago among the city’s college crowd. B comes after A, the band’s first EP released at the beginning of this month, and their 2017 debut LP Susan’s Room.
The show opened with a comedy set by Haters Club, whose indie music critiques were met with few laughs. It was a relief when the two-woman, soft indie band Modern Nun took the stage, followed by Girl K. I spotted Girl K’s singer and guitarist Kathy Patino before the show started. She was hard to miss in green, heeled jelly shoes and a black jumpsuit over a pink-striped collared shirt — a sophisticated look with child-like touches. Patino’s choice of dress, the flower decals on her orange guitar, and her permission to fans before louder songs to go a little wild but stay safe were all indicative of the preschool teacher job that she mentioned.
She’s a pretty cool preschool teacher though, and a powerhouse when she opens her mouth to sing. Her mostly upbeat indie rock is invigorating and balanced out by quieter songs like “So Strange,” which Patino agreed to play after first claiming it was too sad when a few of her fans yelled for her to play it. She warned the audience that she hadn’t played the song in a while and slipped up a couple times but was met with encouraging cheers. Girl K has a relatively small following, and I hope the tour they are about to depart on brings the band closer to the forefront of the indie music scene.
The Slaps’ simpler clothing contrasted Patino’s colorful outfit: guitarist and singer Rand Kelly wore an oversized T-shirt over gray sweatpants, Bell a T-shirt tucked into tan pants, and drummer Josh Resing a purple, tie dye shirt. The band’s songs range from indie rock to their self-described “beach blues” music. Opening with “Cheers,” The Slaps played songs from A before moving onto their newest music.
A highlight of the show was “Being Around,” which Resing dropped his drumsticks to sing. His deeper, slightly raspy voice is comforting. The Slaps tend to steer clear of romantic songs — Rand saves these for his solo work — but “Being Around” voices an unwillingness to commit to a long-term relationship. It is filled with pleasing rhyming lines like “I’m a Jolly Roger, darling dodger bane,” and clever lyrics that feature repetition like “I’m trying, trying my best to write the words into phrases, phrases from all the phases, all for you.” Its self-deprecating nature evokes a melancholy and tenderness, but the song’s guitar plucking makes it pleasant to listen to.
My favorite song from the show was B’s “I Wanna,” which has tropicalia undertones. Kelly’s yearning came through throughout the song, especially on the repeated “I wanna be someone different,” and the desire to be simultaneously mature and young was clear with lines like “I wanna act our age when there’s nothing to do” and “I wanna wear my shoes on the top of my head.”
The Slaps were clearly excited to play, alerting the audience near the end of their show, “This is the last song. Unless you say encore.” They preceded to play four more songs after the “last” song, continuing even after a staff member who thought they were finished squeezed through the crowd to hand them beers. Few were opposed.
I wish you could have been there. I really do, because words just don’t seem like enough to describe MorMor and Duendita’s performance at Sleeping Village this past Friday. As MorMor would say, Heaven is a wish, and standing in the space created by his simple falsetto and lush instrumentation I couldn’t have wished for a better paradise. It was the type of show where you leave knowing that a piece of you was left behind to stay in that moment forever. And because it left you can’t seem to remember anything tangible, only the rush of raw emotion and the sensation of dissipating into the air with the music remains, and you know that once you leave the space you can never go back. I wish I could go back.
Kicking off the show Duendita walked out onto the stage with only a drum machine and sequencer. Running her vocals through a processor, she had complete control to curate the sonic environment of her performance and I am forever grateful. Starting with the sound of a bass drum, Duendita started by singing her song “Blue Hands” to set the intention and tone of her performance. “This is a prayer for my kind/ I wish you a long long long black life/ this is for the girls who get lost in the night in blue hands”
With the knowledge of why and for who Duendita was singing I watched as the music and its intentions morphed the room. Slowly, through sound and action, she drew us into a space surrounded by bird sounds and the fluttering of her own voice. By the time her set was halfway over it was as if the hardwood of the walls had grown into trees, and the stage lights surrounding Duendita’s curls like a halo had transformed into sunlight dripping through the leaves of a forest.
Standing awestruck in the sonic world created by Duendita, I like everyone else surrounding me seemed completely vulnerable to her performance. In a time when it is so easy to flee the present moment into our own fantasies in phones or elsewhere, her voice soared through the air and held us captivated. But her voice was not effortless. Contorting her face as she sang, it was as if her voice came out of a place too deep for any body to contain.
Whether it was her words, her melody or her use of orchestration, no move in Duendita’s performance was without purpose. As time finally slipped away and her performance came to an end, people from all over the crowd rushed to the stage to express some of the love her performance had filled them with. As any true Leo would, she accepted them with grace as if she hadn’t just bared her soul for the past half an hour, but maybe this is an everyday occurrence for the powerful force known as Duendita.
Following the spiritual and ethereal performance of Duendita, heaven’s own angel MorMor followed with their version of paradise. Much like Duendita, MorMor described to me after the show that intention is everything for them, and it showed in their performance. Playing with a drummer, bassist and synth player alongside him, the band and MorMor never missed a beat as they recreated what seemed like MorMor’s entire catalog with delicate intention.
They even premiered a few songs from MorMor’s second project, just released this weekend, called Some Place Else. Surrounded by sound, it was if the band turned the air to liquid. Drowning in bubblegum-flavored nostalgia, it truly felt like I had arrived at this “elsewhere” MorMor’s music seems to exist in. MorMor’s band filled the hole I worried would never, never be filled after Duendita had ripped it open.
Filled with the joy and bittersweetness of MorMor’s performance, I tried my best to be the professional journalist WNUR had assigned me to be, but if I am being honest I completely failed. My love of the music overpowered me as I felt my body lose its composure and let go of whatever scripts or responsibilities I had assigned to it. I had come to this show with two friends that I love dearly and it was all I could do to not let the tears flow freely.
I truly love genuine music with my whole heart. The only thing I can tell you with complete certainty is that through intention and radical expression, Duendita and MorMor created a space of vulnerability, radical love, and honesty that shook me. There was no story, no drama, no extenuating circumstances, just love and powerful people coming together to express and imagine ourselves in ways that feel like dreams fading into the back of our minds. As the dream of Friday night fades into the back of mine, I wait for the chaos to come and collect me with the youth and pray that I will see MorMor and Duendita again someday soon.
I walked into Thalia Hall on a Tuesday night buzzing with nerves. I was excited out of my mind. La Dispute was one of my favorite bands in middle school, and I felt like I was living a dream being able to take photos of them that night.
La Dispute is a band from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their new album Panorama is accompanied on Spotify by crystalline figures rotating against pastel gradient backdrops. I was surprised by the new art. The visuals are a stark contrast from their previous album art on Wildlife, Rooms of the House and Vancouver. I thought that this change would represent a significant change in sound, but their new album closely resembles their old without feeling too repetitive.
If you don’t know La Dispute, you should. I would recommend listening to Wildlife if you feel sad and angry, or Rooms of the House to chill out before bed. Panorama is good for both.
I had gotten to the venue late and missed some of opener Slow Mass’ set, but I took what photos I could while listening to the very loud pop-punk band. Gouge Away came on next. The lead singer of the hardcore band came onto the stage with a bow in her hair and proceeded to scream her heart out for the rest of the set. Only one of their songs included clean vocals. The crowd had a small moshpit going and everyone thrashed their head along with the band. By this time, Thalia Hall had gotten pretty full.
After Gouge Away, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. Young and old people in the crowd waited anxiously as the crew set up La Dispute’s set, which included warm ambient lighting and salt lamps with a white backdrop.
The second they stepped on stage, the audience became entranced. The band began with the slow, airy “ROSE QUARTZ” and slowly built up. Once they began playing “FULTON STREET II,” the previous spell they cast on the audience was broken, and everyone picked up the speed to match lead singer Jordan Dreyer’s energy. He was everywhere, both on the stage and in the crowd.
The band’s fan base was made up of longtime old fans (like myself) and new fans, but everyone knew the words to most of their songs. For us oldies, they made sure to play songs from their previous albums. I may have cried when they played “a Letter.”
When they played “New Storms for Older Lovers,” I felt like I was at church and Jordan was the preacher. The band’s performance and Dreyer’s spoken word-like lyrics had a complete hold over me. Jordan also interacted with the audience frequently. He voiced his appreciation for Chicago as being the place they really got started in music.
Once they got back into their performance, I was still completely enraptured. Their new song “VIEW FROM OUR BEDROOM WINDOW” felt like a warm embrace. While they performed, soothing colors swirled from a projector onto their white backdrop. “RHODONITE AND GRIEF” sounded even sweeter in person than recorded (something I didn’t think was possible.)
Dreyer gained more and more spirit throughout the show, feeding off the audience’s energy. At one point, he jumped off the stage and let people in the crowd sing. The band announced they wouldn’t be doing a traditional leave-the-stage-then-come-back-for-an-encore, and just told us when they began their “encore” of “a Broken Jar” and “You and I in Unison.”
After the show was over, I turned to my friend and said, “I’m gonna have such bad Post-Concert Depression after this.”
It was a show I’ll never forget.
For 2019, my resolution is to only cover “deer” bands at Lincoln Hall. Following Deerhunter’s February show, I was tasked with reviewing Baltimore noise outfit Deerhoof. Though not super knowledgeable about the extent of their discography, I had loved everything I’d heard by them and was tipped off that their live show was stunning. With high expectations, I arrived at Lincoln Hall around 8pm on April 21st, just in time for openers Bleach Party.
Bleach Party was by miles the most straightforward act on the bill, which they benefited from. In contrast to the headliner and middle act, who used elaborate pedalboards to twist and screw with their guitar sounds to the point where they were barely recognizable as the product of electric guitars, Bleach Party’s guitars sounded like guitars–albeit noisy ones. The local band moved quickly through a set of brawny but fun punk songs, anchored by lead singer Meg Macduff. Though not an incredibly unique style, the outfit compensated in intensity and enthusiasm, rewarding the small crowd that collected in time for them.
Palm, hailing from Philadelphia, was more in the Deerhoof-y, strange, erratic art pop camp, a fitting opener for the headliner. Consisting of two lead vocalists and guitar players, a time-signature spanning drummer, and a bassist, the band suffered from trying to do too much. They were stuffing their songs with abrupt tempo and key signature switch-ups and leaving the audience with little to hang on to. I found their guitar tones to be the biggest problem; they sounded more like steel drums than anything else for most of the show. It would’ve been interesting for one or two songs, but if nothing else it proved that there’s a reason steel drums aren’t the dominant instrument in alternative rock. Also, note to Kasra Kurt (one of the lead singers): the campy Animal Collective self-harmonies aren’t a good look. There’s no one that listens to your band that hasn’t heard Animal Collective (I assume), and you’re getting dangerously close to rip-off territory. Still, props to their ambition, and their drummer.
From Deerhoof’s first track, “Paradise Girls”, they made it clear that it was possible to have unexpected, rhythmically and musically complex tunes that are still catchy and arresting. The front-woman, Satomi Matsuzaki, was understated but entertaining, jumping and dancing around while playing bass and occasionally making deadpan quips, such as observing that her amp’s default setting sounded like a Chinese restaurant.
The two guitarists, though they didn’t say much, also attracted attention, trading warped licks that could have been from hard rock songs on another planet. The drummer came the closest to stealing the show, walking over to the mic at various points into the set with what seemed like a sarcastic smirk, to profess his admiration for the opening acts, among other sincere declarations. While playing he held down the tight yet spontaneous band through an exciting set. The climax was probably the cut “Believe E.S.P.“ off Deerhoof’s 2007 album Friend Opportunity, which featured a lovely audience sing-along breakdown. All in all, if you’re ever conflicted about going to a Deerhoof show, go for the complex, strange noise-pop, and stay for the sincerity and general affability of the band!
Before the SWMRS show, my friend and I mused about how we weren’t big fans of the new album and preferred the old. We were nervous about how the show would go because of this, but I was confident that the band would bring the type of energy to their concert that forces you to love the music and felt excited nonetheless.
We walked into Concord Music Hall about an hour late, but the first opener was still performing. It was my first time at the venue, and I was impressed by the large sugar skull painted on the wall of the main floor.
There was already a surprisingly big crowd. The audience was super into the first opener already, jumping with a lot of energy and moshing. I thought the opener was The Regrettes, but learned later that they had to drop out last minute and Destroy Boys stepped in. Destroy Boys was decent. They are an all girl group with repetitive but fun rock songs. At one point, they called the crowd to split down the middle for a Wall of Death, in which the two halves of the crowd happily plunged into each other.
The next band on was Beach Goons, an indie/surf rock band from San Diego. Their set design was pretty minimalistic: just two wooden cutouts of a sad and happy clown face. They had incredible energy, and the crowd went wild for them, moshing and crowd surfing. Their stage presence made it seem like they could have been the main act. In fact, it seemed like a lot of people were there for them, as many left after their set. Their songs ranged from upbeat punk rock to sweet Spanish tunes like “Chunti.”
Beach Goons also incorporated the audience into one of their songs, introducing it as super easy to follow because the only lyrics are,
“Everybody is dead / All my friends are dead / And I’m tryin’ my best / My best to reach things.”
Everyone sang along and the band asked for another Wall of Death. You could tell they were feeding off of the crowd’s insane energy. Their second to last song “Miedo” had a very angsty vibe, but they finished their set with a fun cover of “La Bamba.”
SWMRS, a California-based punk group came on next. The lead singer of SWMRS Cole Becker is obviously very politically aware. Becker stopped to talk about the band’s no tolerance for sexual assault, even saying they would stop the show to handle the situation and kick the person out. They opened up with “Trashbag Baby,” promoting the crowd to go wild. Eventually, SWMRS called for a Wall of Death too.
Cole’s brother, Max Becker, sang the band’s slower, sadder songs.
Becker would occasionally stop to address how good of a time he was having with the crowd, once saying “Well yee to the motherfuckin’ ha this is crazy!” Before “Berkley’s on Fire,” he shouted “Chicago is on fire!!” At that point, I put my notes down and joined the mosh pit.
Becker was obviously a really lovely person. At one point, he made sure to thank the staff of the venue, his crew and the openers, and then told us to thank our moms (as they were the reason we were there in the first place.) He continuously interacted with the crowd, seemingly feeding off our intense energy and relentless moshing.
During one slower song, however, he prompted short people to get on shoulders and for everyone to pull their lighters out. Strangers in the crowd put their arms over each other shoulders and swayed along to the song.
SWMRS’ made the crowd feel like a real community.
The crowd’s energy lasted until the end. During “Hellboy,” two of the girls from the opener band stage dived, as well as the lead singer of Beach Goons. For “Palm Trees,” I crowd surfed.
Cole perfectly summed up the night: “There’s not that much more I can say to you guys because you’re fucking perfect.”