Few things can truly match the malleability of music. By shaping noise and sound we are able to create meanings out of chaos, harmony out of discord. In its energy we find everything from reasons to dance to reasons to live. The emotions put into its creation will somehow trigger the same chemical responses in the brain of the listener. All of this to say music is one powerful medium and musician/artist/poet/mc Noname is more than aware of this.
With songs consisting of bubbly beats overlaid with her poetic verses, her music not only deals with her own struggles but like most storytellers, with every word Noname looks to give substance to her listeners. A frequent collaborator with Chicago artists such as Chance the Rapper, she made her debut with her 2015 album Telefone. The album introduced Noname to the world and told stories of her own battles for success and happiness in the face of countless obstacles. Coming from a place of autobiography, Noname’s music serves as a how to when it comes to the sacrifices and dedication that are needed to demand ones own success.
On November 22 I was able to experience Noname’s energy first hand at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall for Red Bull’s ’30 Days in Chicago’ concert series. Supported by a full band her songs morphed on stage as she wove in out of new and old material. Her excitement to be back was obvious as she floated back and forth across the stage singing “Noname off the drugs/ Noname quit the weed/Telefone delight/Love is all I need” Two years removed from the release of her debut album Noname’s dedication to her music has seemed to grow even further Acting as a sort of lyrical motif, lines such as this were repeated throughout the concert. While the band would begin the instrumental to a new song, Noname interwove ideas and lyrics from new and old projects into one cohesive performance. This blending of new and old by Noname and her band allowed for ideas from her previous project to evolve with the new sound while rooting the performance in her Chicago roots. Now living in L.A., Noname’s transitioning from new material into old lyrical motifs went to show that the purpose of her new material has not strayed far from the ideas presented on Telefone. Instead these ideas and principles have simply evolved further in the California sunshine.
Preceding Noname, rappers Buddy and The Last Artful, Dodgr, set the stage for this Nonames joyous performance. While rapper Buddy was rarely caught in the same place as he danced on every possible surface of the stage, his vocals rarely missed a beat. With a cadence that cut through his bass heavy beats with ease, his songs touched on everything from his inability to stop shining to his one and only love, OG Kush.
The Last Artful, Dodgr armed with a mic, a red beanie, and two back up dancers, electrified the crowd as people continued to filter in. While neither artist had the support of a full band as did Noname, their charisma alone made up for this deficit in energy as Buddy at one point even dived off the stage to try inject some of his energy into a somewhat lackluster crowd. Whether it was through their own dancing or that of their back up dancers, both performers interjected a sense of celebration into the performance as the packed house cheered them on.
Though all three artist’s songs referred to things very personal, their desire to interact with the crowd showed the outward purpose of their performance. Noname in particular constantly worked to bring the huge crowd in front of her into her performance. Their passive listening was not enough as Noname persuaded the crowd to sing along whenever possible and take the messages to heart. While her songs mostly refer to her own struggles growing up and fighting to escape her circumstances, her desire to interact showed that her words are meant to teach and heal just as much as they are to describe. One of the first songs she performed, Reality Check, a song about facing her own doubts about her music ability when creating Telefone, Noname sang to the crowd, “Don’t fear the light/ That dwells deep within/ You are powerful/ Beyond what you imagine/ Just let your light glow” When Noname first walked on the stage I couldn’t help but notice the light that seemed to emanate from her presence. Full of joy yet tinted with a deep reality of sadness and truth, the wisdom of her words shined through the innocence of her voice. Obviously self aware of her own “glow”, Noname’s music looks to provide this same strength and validation to her fans that she herself has found within it.
For many, when the name Amine comes up, the first thing that comes to mind is his famed song, “Caroline” at least that was all I had known about him until just a couple of days before the concert in which I took the time to listen to all his music. Red Bull Sound Select brought Amine to Chicago as part of their large 30 Days in Chicago event. Amine isn’t the only big name being brought to town however, with artists like Daniel Caesar, Migos, and 6lack also making appearances on their respective days. By the end of the night though, I was baffled not only by Amine’s striking stage presence and command of the crowd, but also by just how well Red Bull had put together the concert.
The first of two opening acts was A2, a rapper whom I quickly realized came from Britain, not only based on his accent but also regarding how excited he was to be performing in Chicago for the very first time. While one might think that this newness of Chicago and the audience itself would warrant nervousness and even hesitance, A2 seemed to vibe with the energy right off the bat, constantly praising the audience’s energy. The crowd truly was energetic, with some even singing along as A2 performed songs like X2 (Dble) and Holograms. Even those who didn’t quite recognize his music found it easily to jump and cheer along, simply excited by the artist’s sheer energy. By the time A2 had wrapped up and gotten offstage, the crowd was well on it’s way to peak excitement.
The second and last opening act was Pell who instantly had the youthful crowd jumping around with their hands in the air. His entire aura simply screamed bold as he came out on stage wildly from the get go. Opting to give Obama a shout out, he called out the past president’s name quite a few times into the mic whilst the crowd either called out alongside him or simply was laughing at all that seemed to be taking place. It was nearly impossible to keep up with both him and the crowd as he bounced around on stage, performing hits like Chirpin’ that amplified the crowd’s excitement. However, nothing quite sent the crowd into a frenzy like the sudden, surprising appearance of Saba on stage as he and Pell performed a new song that has yet to drop. As the two performed together onstage, there was a moment of intensity in which the venue seemed to shake with excitement. In just that moment, if someone had told me that this was the peak moment of the show, I probably would have believed them as Saba’s sudden appearance and Pell’s performance definitely left the crowd cheering and dying for more.
The DJ was notably good at keeping the crowd’s energy up, playing hits like This Is How We Do It, Low, and Wild Thoughts. There was barely a lull between the opening acts and the hour or so before Amine’s performance, something of which had been a concern of mine when I saw the three-hour gap between the doors opening at 8pm and Amine’s expected performance at 11:20pm on the schedule. However, the concert flowed rather smoothly, and it wasn’t long until the DJ was hyping the crowd up with questions like, “Are you ready for Amine to come out?” and the moment his band stepped onto stage just before the performance, the crowd went wild.
By the time Amine came out, any thoughts of the night having hit the peak before then immediately flew out of my mind. He didn’t hesitate to take control of the stage space and the crowd, not only performing his own hit songs like Spice Girl, Hero, and eventually Caroline (which he did an amazing remix of, one that I definitely favored over the original as it highlighted his talent) but he also did his own covers of iconic songs like Scrub, Gold Digger, and Wannabe. He was very communicative with the audience, mentioning that he liked to boost the confidence of his crowds and starting a chant in which he would say, “You’re beautiful!” and the crowd would reply, “I know!”.
There were even plenty of times in which the stage coordinator would dim the lights too low for too long and Amine would demand that the lights come back on, as if not wanting to be disconnected from the crowd for even a moment. Towards the end of the performance, Amine pulled a man on stage to sign his famed pants to represent Chicago as the last act of his US tour, in which the man and the crowd went back and forth on what to sign, but eventually settled with “Obama 4 Ever” to represent the city.
It wasn’t long before the performance wrapped up, and Amine called it a night, only to come out suddenly once again for an encore, performing his hit song Caroline. By the end of the night, as Amine truly finished up onstage and bid the audience goodbye, the crowd was still buzzing for more, and seemed to be truly satisfied with the events of the night. As people shuffled out of the venue, there seemed to be a smile painted on the faces of everyone. The concert was a positive experience, from the extreme excitement of the crowd (that was probably the most hyped group of people I’d ever been around at a concert) and the talent of opening acts A2 and Pell, and the main act, Aminé.
The night started off with melodic rock music from the California based duo Slenderbodies. The lead singer sung in a falsetto over rhythmic guitar; covered by a blanket of warm tone lights, facing a swaying crowd. Next to the stage was Tennyson a brother-sister duo whose energy matched the fast tempo of there songs.
Tennyson was the only act of the the night that was a Red Bull Sound Select artist. Tess Petty the sister of the duo rocked the drum set while her brother Luke played the piano and sung. Although their beats were electronic in nature the live instruments gave the set a more acoustic feel. The crowd sung along to there hit songs and swayed and danced through the set.
As the Tennyson’s left the stage, the anticipation for the headliners Mura Masa and Bonzai grew. Concord Hall was at full capacity when the beat of Mura Masa’s hit song “Messy Love” began playing.
Mura Masa stepped on stage right up to a keyboard where he stayed most of the night as he played through old and new hit songs like “Love$tick”, and “Nuggets” off of his self titled album Mura Masa and “Low” off of Someday Somewhere.
On Monday, Nov. 20, rising star Daniel Caesar brought his growing catalog of gospel-infused soul ballads to Reggies Rock Club in Chicago’s South Loop. The sold-out show was part of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in Chicago, an ongoing concert series that has hosted a roster of artists in high demand this November.
Caesar has had a breakout year, dropping his debut studio album Freudian in August and getting pegged as one of Apple Music’s Up Next artists. Hailing from Toronto, Caesar has started to build worldwide appeal by fulfilling a largely unoccupied niche for crooning RnB with inflections of gospel music. Freudian possesses universal appeal; it could be a hit on your local top 40 radio station, be a slow jam for your date night or be the soundtrack to your long drive home.
I get off at the Chinatown red-line stop, a short walk away from Reggies. It’s cold. Like really cold outside. When I arrive at the venue, I’m surprised to find only 6 other people in front of me waiting. I almost second guess if I’m at the right location until I see the glowing neon-blue sign that Red Bull has put up in front of the entrance to Reggies.
It’s 6:30 and the doors are supposed to open at 7. Where is everyone? A representative from Red Bull pokes her head out of the entryway and announces that doors are actually opening at 8. Did I mention it’s cold? There’s a shared groan of disappointment from everyone in line, dreading another hour outside in the 30-degree weather and the continual brisk, face-slapping gusts of wind.
As the line grows to around 30 people and the clock nears closer to 8, it becomes hard to ignore the fact that nearly everyone here is with a significant other. Confined to the outer walls of Reggies and snaking down a small stretch of sidewalk on State street, couples brace the winter chill together, sharing headphones, faces illuminated by phone screens to pass the time.
It only seems right that you go see Daniel Caesar with your boo. Freudian basks in the light of new love, providing a joyous depiction of the peaks of being in a romantic relationship. At the same time, Caesar also explores the pitfalls of heartbreak with striking honesty and self-reflection. The result is a vulnerable, emotional journey that listeners can connect with, while Caesar weaves in elements of his personal experiences.
A communal sigh of relief fills the air as doors open and people rush straight to the stage. Within 15 minutes, the tight 400-person space is nearly packed and the crowd starts to overflow onto the balcony.
The first opener, Cherrie (pronounced like “sherry”,) hits the stage shortly after. Hailing from Sweden and singing in Swedish, she’s an unfamiliar artist for most of the audience. However, by the end of her short set, she leaves a noteworthy first impression. Multiple times throughout the performance, she explains how she’s surprised that the Chicago audience still shows her love despite the fact that the vast majority of the room has no idea what she’s saying. Language barrier aside, Cherrie’s mix of electronic production and seductive pop melodies raise the hype level in the room significantly.
Burgeoning soul singer SiR takes the stage next. He starts things off with a set of downtempo, sensual love songs. It’s a somewhat unexpected change of pace from Cherrie, but the California native connects with listeners nonetheless. At times it gets hard to focus on his performance as everything gets drowned out in an overblown wave of bass. SiR’s silky vocals still come through in the end and hold the crowd’s interest, leaving everyone asking for more.
A four-person crew promptly gets the staged ready for Daniel Caesar, moving a DJ set off the stage and putting a white drum set in its place. A full band of instruments of the same pearly hue also gets brought on stage, with an electric Fender positioned front and center–Caesar’s guitar. When the crew finishes, the lights dim and it’s show time.
Caesar’s band gets behind their respective weapons of choice as a choir-sung interlude builds in the background. The steady first drum taps play, followed by the opening chords of “Japanese Denim.” Caesar graces the mic just in time to sing the first seductive notes, and the floor of the stage gets clouded in a layer of smoke. He grins through the first verse as bouts of applause and screams ensue.
The most powerful qualities of Caesar’s music get accentuated in his live set. The smoothness of his voice is more noticeable when he has free reign to hold out notes as long as he pleases, unconfined by a recording booth. Performing with a full band, the simple instrumentation gets elevated, each guitar strum more poignant and each kick drum more punchy. When Caesar straps on his own guitar and plays it interchangeably throughout the night, he navigates each song with confidence, nodding his head in approval of his own abilities. Caesar comes off like a seasoned veteran on stage, commanding the audience with relaxed finesse.
As the night winds down, everyone knows it’s not quite time to go home yet. Not until Caesar plays his biggest song to date, “Get You,” will the night feel complete. The song’s muddled bassline emanates and Caesar fulfills everyone’s anticipation. When he gets to the first chorus, the whole room joins in. He tilts the mic toward the crowd, bringing everyone together for the finale. Arms wave, faces glow and Caesar gives one last thank you as his band plays him out.
The lights come back on and clusters of people make their way outside, calling Uber’s and hustling to train stations. I hitch a ride with a couple of Loyola students, and we wait around the corner to be picked up. It might be even colder now than it was waiting for the show to start, but I don’t really notice. My mind is still inside Reggies, encapsulated in the wake of Caesar’s soothing melodies. The warmth resonates with me all the way home.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile played a sold-out show at Thalia Hall, or Tilapia Hall, as Vile calls it, on Friday. Thalia Hall was the first of three sold-out shows in Chicago beginning with Rockefeller Chapel and ending at the Empty Bottle. Barnett and Vile are touring North America with a rotating band, The Sea Lice, which featured Rob Laasko of The Violators on guitar, Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin, and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney on Friday.
Jen Cloher, a Melbourne-based singer-songwriter and Barnett’s wife, opened the show with a bold, independent performance with a compilation of songs from older albums including In Blood Memory and off of her newest album, Jen Cloher. Her raw, earnest renditions created an exceptional ambience for Barnett, Vile and The Sea Lice to take the stage.
The show was mostly comprised of songs off of their joint album, which features and highlights the best of the two artists. Vile’s laid-back, twang complemented Barnett’s deadpan vocals. Barnett’s role on the new album was more relaxed and acoustic than the more preppy yet intense rock style of her last album, Sometimes I sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Barnett and Vile had clear musical chemistry, both on the album and on stage, replete with playful banter and witty guitar riffs.
The band provided a unique multidimensionality to the performance, without undermining or distracting from Barnett and Vile’s modestly unrefined style. Their apparent musical modesty, however, is not to suggest that the performance was lacking in any way. The complex interplay of instrumentals and vocals that could only arise from a collaboration as quirky as Barnett and Vile was both musically rich and unequivocally interesting.
One specific spotlight projects a circle of bright rays around Kamasi Washington. As this circle of light revolves around him in his painted, floor-length garb with abstract compositions and his tarnished, worn sax, a multitude of uniquely different sounds ooze from the stage, flooding the audience with rich, dense audio information; yet the audience is not overwhelmed by the technical complexity of this sound, as by the time each vibration hits the ear drum, the various textures are one. As the mind processes this harmony, the source of it becomes increasingly clearer: difference. And as one remembers hearing the harmony and then thinking the difference, the overpowering relief of finding Harmony of Difference hits like a high dose of endorphins. Bodies sway in euphoria as the human body that society constantly divides and mandates compartmentalized is all of a sudden realized as whole, all by an artist who refuses to be reduced to only one thing.
Following a three-disc debut album The Epic, this shorter EP Harmony of Difference continues to display Washington’s tireless dedication to maximalist compositions, spiritual performance, and existing outside but being of jazz. While The Epic can be interpreted as the grand entrance, Harmony of Difference is the preceding speech. Kamasi had already introduced himself, and now, it was time for him to deliver what he had to say —both the introduction and the main speech, of course, done in absolute grandeur.
To warm the audience up, opener Pho, a Twin Cities-based progressive funk band took to stage with their groovy, high energy tunes. With modern taste but classical influences, the funk collective started the musical discourse Riviera, Chicago had in store for its visitors that night. Throughout the opening segment, the two guitarists, Spencer Christensen and Joe Paris, faced and observed each other, coordinating their melodies to suit each other’s sound. The duo’s arrangement shifted in tangent with each other, constituting the backbone of the group’s combined sound, while the rest of the band contributed towards this neo-funk experience.
Part of the weight of Kamasi’s performance lied in the recurring theme of memorialization. “Henrietta Our Hero” and, later, “Malcolm’s Theme” — both songs dedicated to figures significant to Kamasi’s life— were musical shrines. One of the highlights of the show was when Kamasi brought out his father to perform Henrietta with the band. To preface the song, Kamasi quoted his late grandma, “It’s not about what you have. It’s about what you do.” Powerhouse vocalist Patrice Quinn belts out the tale of Henrietta —the first instance of the night when lyrics were sung in a song. As Washington and his compatriots performed the lyrical tale of Henrietta, her legacy is slowly laid out in front of the audience’s eyes. Washington’s father who is a flutist broke out into a solo towards the end of the song. As the accompanying band members all played the same melody, creating harmony, not in traditional chords, but in texture, the flutist riffed away, rendering the end of the song an emotional invocation of a mother and son’s bond. Like how one memorable lyric of the song asks, “Can you see her? Her light is here,” the musical resplendence of the song mirrored Henrietta’s soul helped the audience see her and bathe in the aura of her light.
Having set the stage as a space for memorialization, Kamasi ended his set with “Malcolm’s Theme,” leaving the audience with yet another facet to the act of remembering. Layering Malcolm X’s eulogy with loud minor chords, the piece started cleanly but continually and collectively built and got messier till it hit a screeching, chaotic cloud of sounds that defied not only jazz norms, but what is conventionally considered music. Yet as the vocalist literally shrieked on stage, overcome and completely vulnerable with grief, the disorder seemed natural in its brave exhibition of human honesty and was gut-wrenching and impactful beyond measure.
Beyond this musical shrine Kamasi built on stage, the venue also acted as a box of sound for Kamasi to experiment with. “Humility,” for one, was a track that acted as a canvas for Kamasi to splatter paint across. The song starts out simple with a steady beat, accompanied by an equally rhythmic melody. Once again, all band members were performing the same melody, harmonizing with their varying textures. Just as it steadily built to its maximalist peak, the tune dissembled and slowly dissolved into a round of individual solos. The layers that had piled upon each other removed themselves as seamlessly as they had inserted themselves and before one could notice, only one performer was playing. As each player displayed their musical genius on stage, other members stepped aside to observe and admire; as much as the audience was witnessing the band’s craft, the band members were also appreciating each other’s craft. This round of solos end with everyone returning to their positions on stage, reintegrating themselves into the musical formation of “Humility.”
Towards the end of the concert, as if giving the conclusion to a speech, Kamasi elaborated on the purpose behind Harmony of Difference. “I don’t think our diversity should just be tolerated. It should be celebrated,” said an empowered Kamasi, standing under a bright spotlight, looking onto the crowd, observing the very diversity he was speaking to. With that resounding message drifting in the air, Kamasi introduces Truth: the final track on the EP that consists of five difference melodies played at the same time. The song is the physical embodiment of Harmony of Difference and seeing it play out in front of one’s own eyes is parallel to seeing harmonious chaos function in action, proving its legitimacy and helping the audience fully realize its possibility and complex beauty. As the rich compositions rung through the concert hall, the people in Riviera coexisted despite differences. They collaborated in uniting to appreciating great music despite their differences. They were harmonious in their differences as they witnessed and internalized Harmony of Difference.
There will always be those bands whose sound varies wildly between studio recordings and live performances, for better or for worse. The Lemon Twigs are certainly one of those bands, though not because the music itself is any different—it is because of the energy they possess. The Lemon Twigs consists of brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, only 18 and 20, hailing from Long Island, New York. These two bring retro rock-and-roll into the 21st century with their incredible musical talent and ability to put on a spectacular show.
The evening began with opening act The Symposium, a Chicago-based four-piece band. Their psychedelic pop rock music was fun, and a cool contrast to the electric presence The Lemon Twigs brought to the stage. The guys in the band were clearly local, and seemed to have brought a few friends out to support them that night, as there were calls of “I love Kevin!” between songs. All members were dressed very casually, another disparity between the bands, and the bassist spent his time between songs drinking a beer and smoking an e-cigarette he had gotten from somewhere in the crowd. The music had a similar vintage flavor to The Lemon Twigs, but nothing could have prepared the crowd for the main act.
Though The Lemon Twigs may not be well-known, they obviously have a very devoted set of fans. Just as the band took the stage, the group of women behind me went wild, and their enthusiasm didn’t wane as time went on. Throughout the night, the D’Addario brothers switched between playing the drums and performing on both guitar and vocals, something I’ve never seen a group do before. For this performance, they were also accompanied by a bassist and a synth player.
Brain and Michael were channeling looks that were en vogue several decades ago, with haircuts straight out of the 70s, open shirts and high-waisted pants. Even the old wood of the venue and the pale yellow lighting at the start of the show fit the retro air of The Lemon Twigs. Thalia Hall, located in Pilsen, seemed to be the perfect venue for the band. The well-worn hardwood floors of the ballroom and the tea lights strategically placed behind the bar, along with the denim and muted colors favored among the younger audience, became the perfect backdrop for the bold look and sound of the D’Addario brothers.
Brian started the show on guitar and vocals, kicking things off with the song “I Wanna Prove to You” from their first studio album Do Hollywood, released last year. Staying on guitar for “Haroomata,” another song off the same album, Brian took some time during the song to quite literally skip around stage and just jam on his guitar, showcasing his incredible skill.
Around half an hour into the show, Brian and Michael swapped places for the first time. Before this, Michael had been barely visible behind the drum set, but he seemed to be determined to make up for it. Michael’s performance gave away nothing of his young age, as he confidently made his way around the stage, showing off his abilities with some seriously impressive guitar solos that whipped the crowd into a frenzy. At one point, he even pulled out a pair of aviator sunglasses, nonchalantly claiming “I just found these, I don’t know. I just found them,” with the confidence of an experienced performer.
Throughout nearly the rest of the set, all attention was on Michael. With his strong voice and insane skill on the guitar, coupled with gravity-defying high kicks and jumps around the stage, he has the strut of a seasoned rock star. Nearing the end of the show, the band performed “As Long As We’re Together,” another song off their full-length record. The band then left the stage, only to come back for an additional few songs to close the evening. This last leg of the show featured a great rendition of “Light and Love,” a slower number off their new EP, Brothers of Destruction. Brian returned to vocals and guitar, delivering a much softer, more vulnerable performance than his brother.
As the crowd was exiting Thalia Hall into the cold October night, there was a look of joy on everyone’s faces. For one night, The Lemon Twigs had transported the audience back to some other era of rock music, a time full of inescapably bright colors, blistering guitar solos and iconic style. No one was ready for it to be over.
Six feet under the moon, The Metro in Northern Chicago is packed yet eerily silent. Blue lights shine down on a thin pale Archie Marshall. A single gold tooth glints between his lips as the rest of King Krule stands silently behind him awaiting the hit. Waiting to disrupt the simple beauty of Archie and his guitar, they watch with the crowd as his fingers slowly slip into position on the neck of his Fender Stratocaster. “This song’s about the sky” Archie mutters to the crowd. Like water from a dripping pipe the opening chords of the King Krule Ballad “Baby Blue” fill the concert hall. Shivers run down my spine as the lonely rasp of Archie Marshals voice scrapes against my bones. Its hallows eve, King Krule is making my ears bleed, and I love it.
Coming off the release of their brand new LP, The OOZ, an album full of ambient instrumentation and sound effects, King Krule worked seamlessly to mix and meld old and new material into a cohesive concert. With raw emotion propelling the show forward, anger and loneliness took center stage as Archie’s vocals hovered above the sounds of the band. Slowly building off of each other, the band was able to masterfully render their sound into moments of powerful chaos. Moments that without warning would suddenly dissipate into an intimate clarity of emotion as Marshall stood exposed and vulnerable to the greedy gaze of hundreds.
The tone of the show itself was set by the openers, Show Me the Body. With a sound like the love child of New York Punk and Death Grips, what truly sets their sound apart from the rest is their frontman Julian Pratt. Utilizing an electric distorted banjo, along with Noah Cohen-Corbett on drums and Harlan Steed on bass, the band left little time to breathe as they went from one hard hitting song to the next. Political and angry, Show Me the Body was unapologetic and blunt with its sound. Through combinations of electrically distorted bass, high pitched banjo, and screaming vocals, the air thickened as the intensity of the band reverberated throughout the crowd. Leaving the crowd sweating and energized, Show Me the body created the perfect atmosphere for the brutally honest intimacy of King Krule to shine through.
One of the highlights of King Krule’s set was their resident DJ, Connor Attanda. During the performance of the new track Half Man Half Shark, as Marshal repeated its opening phrase, “Half man and the body of a shark man,” Attanda silently sampled the vocals in the background. Playing the loop, it continuously accelerated and rose in pitch until suddenly the bass and drums struck like a locomotive and the song began. Utilizing the vocals of his band mates, Attanda sampled phrases and screams live layering echos of sound that seemed to come from nowhere. With the ability to effect the pitch and tone, echoes of Archie’s voice enveloped the concert hall and collapsed on themselves to create mind numbing climaxes of sound.
Any space left empty by Attanda was usually filled with the jazzy musings of Saxophone player Ignacio Salvadores. One of the additions to King Krule’s sound since their last release, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, Ignacio’s saxophone enhanced already beautiful moments while maintaining clear lines of melody as the band’s sound ascended into chaos. Especially during the moments when the band around Archie cut out, Salvadores’ melodies rose along with Archies voice above the band to help give its aimless chaos direction.
As King Krule performed their final song, Easy Easy, I realized their music was anything but. Utilizing sound effects, live sampling, along with complex melodies and chord progressions, it made their performance all the more impressive. All of these factors came from different members of the band working to create a platform to elevate the poetry of Archie Marshall. At constant conflict with each other yet in perfect harmony, lonely and angry and blue, King Krule’s Hallows Eve performance gave me chills I’ve yet to shake.
With 50 years of existence under its belt, the Museum of Contemporary Art has consistently been an icon for modern creativity and expression. As someone who went into the event relatively blind and with only a vague understanding of what the artists were like, I came out feeling cultured, livened, and like I could do anything I put my mind to. This, arguably, is the essence of the Windy City itself, and the MCA brought every flavor of Chicago out for anyone to taste. From Avery R. Young and de deacon board’s funky mix of jazz with hymns reminiscent of a Southern black church, to Kaycee Ortiz proudly repping the modern sexually expressive woman.
This wide variety of music and diversity of artists rang true to the MCA’s mission to celebrate the present, pay respects to the past, and look forward to the future. The 50th anniversary event was one that not only was important in celebrating the museum’s existence of half a century but also crucial in shining a light on the up and coming artists from Chicago along with those like Lupe Fiasco whom have already found their way. Seeing these two sets of artists in the same venue brought out a sense of hope unlike I’ve ever experienced before.
Before headliner Lupe Fiasco, there was a number of performers all of which had their own unique sounds but yet maintained a common demanding stage presence that is unique to Chicago performers. First up was Avery R. Young and de deacon board in the theater. The angle of the seats compared to the stage was rather steep, and yet the moment the lights dimmed to a deep blue and Young came on stage to introduce every member of the group by name, the setting felt extremely intimate. Young put a clever funk spin onto classic black songs that many would recognize; songs like, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” that resonated with the hearts of many in the crowd regardless of color. Even more so, the show took several spiritual turns like when one of Young’s backup singers, Megan McMill, had a solo in which she sung “If I Can Help Somebody” and for just a moment as the crowd yelled out encouragements like, “Yes Lord!” and “Sing the song baby!”, I felt like I had left a museum event and had stepped into church. Young and De Deacon Board took classic black Christian songs and turned them into something that everyone in the diverse crowd could understand even while celebrating black culture.
After the theater show, we moved up to the After Hours in the Atrium where DJ CaliXta played a few songs as the crowd well-dressed, relatively young audience trickled in excitedly, ready for the show. The stage here was relatively low to the ground, surprisingly small, and pretty accessible to the crowd. The atrium got packed fast and it wasn’t long until the crowd was getting antsy for the artists to start gracing the stage.
First up was Kaycee Ortiz who had an excellent stage presence and didn’t hesitate to interact with the crowd personally from the start. She started with 30 Dollar Coat which was enough for the crowd to start dancing around, sticking their hands up in the hair. Though the crowd wasn’t extremely hyped yet, Ortiz got them way more excited when she boldly asked, “Who likes to smoke weed?” which elicited quite a bit of response from the audience, so much so that I briefly forgot that recreational use of weed is only decriminalized in Illinois rather than legal. This interesting question was then followed by her unapologetic performance of “Tam”.
Following up was theMIND who took the crowd from jumping around and singing excitedly to a slowed down, more laid-back vibe with much more relaxed, alternative type of R&B. Unbothered by the fact that not everyone would know who he was or of his music, he played one of his more popular verses from, “Sunny Duet” with Noname. He then took the time to tell his touching story of how he had met Lupe Fiasco in an airport a few years ago and promised that someday he’d open up for him, and that his promise had been fulfilled as he was opening up for him now. It was with that that he strongly encouraged the crowd to chase after their dreams unapologetically before strongly wrapping up the stage and leaving the crowd dying for more.
The moment Lupe Fiasco stepped on stage, the crowd’s excitement shot through the roof, with nearly every person in the venue singing along to the songs he played and even throwing out a few suggestions of their own that he gladly took. He started out with his newer song, but nothing quite excited the crowd like his old songs and so when, “Superstar”, “Touch the Sky”, “Kick Push” and “Daydreamin” came on it was nearly impossible to hear Fiasco himself. He took great control of the crowd and stage, jumping around here and there, standing on speakers, and even pulling a couple of women on stage, though he deemed the first to be too young. The connection between Fiasco and the crowd was riveting and insanely personal as he even took the time to tell the story of how his father told him once that if they were to put all of the buildings of the Chicago skyline together it would form a transformer. Lupe then went on to mention that if they put all of the buildings together now the MCA would be a toe, and then Trump tower would be the penis, though he quickly switched back and claimed it’d be the asshole instead. Fiasco wrapped up with “The Show Goes On” which immediately gave the crowd one last boost of excitement.
All in all, I can’t help but give full props to the MCA for putting on such a well-rounded, and more importantly, diverse concert. There wasn’t a single lull during the concert, and it’s hard to believe that such an event was free. Each artist was amazing in their own right and showed a color of performance that is unique to Chicago, and one can only wonder about when such talented, diverse people will be under one roof again performing.
When I call a concert “intimate”, I’m typically referring to a barrier removal, where the performer connects with a (usually sparse) audience on a level that transcend your average spectacle and turns into something more cathartic. Such an experience is characterized by a sustained attentiveness projecting itself onto the space, where audience members are more likely to be caught gazing in awe than succumbing to the distractions that tend to arise when watching a band perform for over an hour. An atmosphere like this is not quite tangible, but when it is there, it is very obvious.
You probably get the message. Big Thief’s show at Thalia Hall was one of those performances. However, Big Thief took it one step further. Unlike the standard concert set-up, with everyone in the crowd facing the same direction, the stage was a square in the center of the floor, erasing any barrier between performer and audience. The band members had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage, and when they were onstage, crowd members could potentially smack the performers just by stretching out their hand (I did not see anyone try this, thankfully). It was a major win for people like me who had a direct view of all three members, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the people who were limited to a view of the back of lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s, until she pointed out the beauty in it. “I feel like there are so many of you I can’t see right now,” she whispered, bending her head backwards. “But I feel like the energy in this room is so much deeper than vision.”
It was some #deep shit, but it was valid. Throughout a set that was a carefully curated whirlwind of cathartic outbursts and hushed, solemn instrumental mewling, the aura was so sustained, I almost felt guilty every time I made a comment to my friend, or glanced at my phone. Bands often capture your attention, but they don’t always lather themselves in it. Big Thief emerged onto the scene fairly recently with last year’s Masterpiece establishing itself as a polished, immersive statement in modern indie rock. However, it wasn’t until this year’s Capacity where they truly collected a diverse array of songs that managed to tiptoe the line between purgative and restrained so relentlessly. It all translated beautifully onstage, to the point where the set almost felt career spanning. Opener Mega Bog, who also fared wonderfully with the dimly-lit centered stage, introduced them as one of the “best bands of all time,” and while I’d never burden any new artist with such a grandiose claim, I must say that I was much more convinced by the time the left the stage.
That being said, it’s always impressive when a show transcends its gimmick, a term I’m hesitant to use because of how well the centered stage complemented Big Thief’s charisma. I left the show wondering why more artists don’t do that with their performances, but then I realized not all of them deserve it as much as Big Thief; when a show becomes this immersive, it’s extra satisfying when they bring the stamina to boot.