I went to Riot Fest this year, and it was a great time. It was conveniently timed the weekend before classes started, and it was great to move back into my apartment and catch some shows before I had to start going to school again and all that lame shit.
From 2005 to 2011, Riot Fest was a multi-venue punk festival, where bands would play at the standard rock venues around the city. They still do a little bit of that; this year the Violent Femmes played a show at Concord Hall in mid-July through Riot Fest. But that’s not really what Riot Fest is anymore. It’s a much bigger, three day outdoor event that plays acts from a wide range of genres. Hip hop, metal and indie rock are all heavily represented.
So sure, it could be said, and it has been said, that Riot Fest has lost its identity. Whatever. If you’re a bitter, aged Chicago punker, you and your extensive knowledge of ‘83 Naked Raygun setlists might be better off staying at home. But as for the rest of us, Riot Fest is a place where you’re probably gonna have a good time. This year’s Friday lineup with Ween (Ween!) and the Flaming Lips back to back was fantastic.
But even on Friday, I saw dozens of people walking around in Misfits shirts. The Misfits played on Sunday. Just walking around the grounds, it was very clear that this festival was about. This was the festival with the Misfits reunion.
Yeah, Misfits played at Riot Fest. The real Misfits. Not Jerry Only and some random guys, not a bunch of ex-Black Flag members carrying the torch. It seems a moderate amount of communication, a momentary casting aside of legal beef, and lots and lots of money were able to get Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the same stage together for two shows this fall, one at Riot Fest Denver, and the one in Chicago.
To those mostly in the dark about the Misfits and their music — yes, the Misfits were the band on the shirts of all the Hot Topic kids in middle school. They also used to be really really good. They emerged in the New York punk in the late 70’s, their music a original mixture of b-movie horror and sci-fi themes and melodic hardcore punk. By 1983 singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, and bassist Jerry Only absolutely hated each other, and they broke up. During the band’s existence they were known within the punk community, but held little notoriety beyond that. Interest in the band accumulated over the following decade with widespread release of their recorded material, and in the mid-90s Jerry Only re-formed the Misfits with Doyle and without Danzig, who was uninterested. This incarnation of Misfits, with Jerry Only mostly on vocals, and a different, heavy metal sound, have been performing with some lineup or another up to present day. They are not very good. Yet, the Misfits’ popularity, and interest in their 80’s work has only increased with time.
As anyone who’s ever frequented a Hot Topic knows, when Glenn Danzig left the band, he didn’t just leave behind albums of fantastic material. He left behind a handful of incredibly well designed, very marketable logos. The merchandizing of the Misfits is the main source of their legal battles. When Only re-formed the Misfits, he acquired a large share of the merchandising rights for these logos. Only and Danzig have been in and out of court since the mid-90s, in large part due to Danzig attempting to get larger cuts of this merchandising revenue.
So that’s all really boring and lame, right? But that’s the environment that these two shows came out of. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jerry Only said that the idea of a reunion was conceived of and agreed to during a court date. The motives of these guys couldn’t have been more obvious — they hate each other, and they are only doing this because they are going to make a ton of money. And you know what? The show was really really good.
Things started off a little rocky when Danzig’s wireless mic malfunctioned and he kept bitching about it, but someone gave him a new mic and further friction was avoided for the rest of the set. Their setlist totaled 26 songs, all from their Danzig-era years, and mostly off their three classic albums Static Age, Walk Among Us and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood. The crowd was huge and very into the set. The Misfits’ logos flashed on the giant screen behind them while two huge, evil pumpkins with glowing green eyes guarded either side of the stage. “You guys like our fuckin’ pumpkins?” Danzig yelled at the crowd at one point, “Pretty fuckin’ sweet huh?”
One thing I found interesting was that, though they weren’t playing any of their newer, heavy metal material, the metal guitar tone lingered. It wasn’t overtly metal, but it wasn’t plug ‘n play punk guitar tone by any means. Regardless, the set was packed with their best material. You give the people “Death Comes Ripping”, “20 Eyes” and “I Turned Into a Martian” back-to-back-to-back to start the show and the people get going. The set was great. And most importantly, these reunion shows have let tens of thousands of Misfits fans experience the band they love live for the first time in decades, or for the first time ever.
Much has been made about the recent trend of bands reuniting and cashing in on the festival circuit. There is no doubt that that is exactly what this concert was. And it was amazing anyway. We would all love for musicians to care about their music, to engage with their fans and enjoy playing with their bandmates. But sometimes musicians are greedy, narcissistic pricks, and in that case giving them a bunch of money and shoving them out on stage works pretty well too.
Ellis Paul is an American singer-songwriter and folk musician. Born in Aroostook County, Maine, Paul is a key figure in what has become known as the Boston school of songwriting, a literate, provocative and urbanely romantic folk-pop style that helped ignite the folk revival of the 1990s. His pop music songs have appeared in movies and on television, bridging the gap between the modern folk sound and the populist traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Paul came to perform at Evanston S.P.A.C.E. on February 28 and WNUR was there to cover it.
As a self-diagnosed folk music addict, I was pretty stoked that a staple in the industry for more than 20 years, Ellis Paul, was coming to Chicagoland. Over his lengthy career, if Paul has perfected one thing, it’s the art of engaging his audience. He did everything from mock Donald Trump while tuning his guitar for a new song to give us a detailed account of his obsession with “The Walking Dead.”
“I’m going to play two sets tonight, but I need to get home before ‘The Walking Dead’ starts at nine,” he said to kick off his show, as he started strumming the opening chords for “Ain’t No Jesus.” It wasn’t just his banter that kept the audience engaged during the rainy Sunday evening show, upbeat jams like “3,000 Miles” also did the trick to get everyone tapping their toes and clapping along. Paul even broke out a harmonica for his catchy love song, “Rose Tattoo.” (But is it even a folk concert without a harmonica?? I think not.)
Paul is a four-piece band wrapped into one: He expertly mimics the sound of a drum set with his guitar while simultaneously creating enticing chord progressions, he sings and blows his harmonica at the same time. “I’d like to introduce the band. They’re really impossible to work with,” he joked before breaking into one of his most popular songs, “The World Ain’t Slowing Down.”
My favorite song was one he claimed to have written on the drive to Evanston from his previous night’s show in Columbus, evidenced by the book he showed us that he had scrawled the lyrics onto and tentatively titled “You Ain’t From These Parts.” Indeed, I can confirm that he had been furiously writing in aforementioned book when I went backstage to interview him before the show.
“It sounds like a folk song right? Well it’s still green. It’s gonna be a rap song by the end,” Paul teased from the piano bench as he played generic-sounding intro chords. But it ended up being anything but ordinary. It was hilarious, poking fun at all the crazy town names found around America and the unusual connotations that come with them.
Midway through Paul’s first set, WNUR photographer Steve Seong leaned over to me and said, “He really seems like he enjoys what he does.” That is what summed up his show for me more than anything: enjoyment. Not only did Paul enjoy himself on stage, but the audience obviously enjoyed it too. And what more can you ask for from a musician, really?
WNUR: How did you get into the music industry in the first place? You grew up on a potato farm and you wanted to be a social worker, right?
Ellis Paul: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really want to be- I was an English major and it just kind of happened by default. I was playing open mic nights and that’s where I got my start I guess.
Where did you get your inspiration for your song writing?
Paul: Well you know I listened to people’s stories. I feel like everybody’s got some nugget story that kind of defines who they are in the big picture. It might be a chance meeting with somebody or an accident or maybe they won the lottery. This one little nugget story can encapsulate someone and that’s what has me interested in songwriting, because all of my songs are about people.
Do you use your own personal stories too or do you prefer to focus on other people?
Paul: Yeah. If I’m writing about other people, it’s going to be tainted by my own experiences. It’s like if Van Gogh is painting a field of sunflowers, it’s still a field of sunflowers but we see his personality in the painting even though there’s no person in the painting. There’s no way to escape our fingerprint even when you’re writing outside of yourself and your experiences.
Do you have any musical inspirations?
Paul: Like heroes? Well, you know there was an era of music between the mid- to late-sixties up until the mid-seventies where there were a lot of sing-songwriters. Jim Croche, early Billy Joel, Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. There was sort of a heyday of folk rock when it was the hippest music. It’s not that way anymore. It’s not like hip-hop or R&B. Not that it’s nonexistent… There was a time when folk music was predominantly in the pop world and heard everyday. That era is what I liked most.
How has that change in popular music culture influenced your work, if at all?
Paul: Well, you know, I keep an eye out for what’s happening, and I listen to people’s music. I bought the Adele record; I bought the Taylor Swift record. And anytime I hear something I like, I try to follow up and see what’s happening. I try to keep up with what stuff I like and try to get inspired. That includes people who aren’t in the popular vein of music, struggling songwriters who are living out of the back of their cars and travelling around the country. Those people are sometimes just as talented as the people on the pop charts. I try to keep an eye out for anybody.
You’ve been in the industry for a while. Do you have something that you consider to be the highlight of your career? What has been your favorite moment so far?
Paul: Tonight is going to be my favorite moment. [laughs] At least that’s what you hope! I don’t really have one; I’ve had a lot of great experiences. I got to go into and write music to a Woody Guthrie lyric, like my music was put to his words. That was a really big highlight. But any night when all cylinders are firing and the audience is completely captivated, it’s a highlight. And I’ve got lots and lots of those.
You’ve written a couple of books, too…
Paul: I’ve written two children’s books and I’ve got one that’s for adults. It’s kind of a sci-fi.
What was that writing process like? Was it similar to your writing process?
Paul: Well the language is kind of the same. It’s really just me spilling my guts on something. It’s not that the medium is that different, but it is drier. When you put music to words, it’s like techicolor, not just black and white. Music is a little more emotional than books, but books are great. I love writing in any medium really.
What’s next for you?
Paul: I just started writing songs for my next project. It might be a year away. It’s going to take a while to get 20 songs, and then we pick the best of the 20. So it’s definitely going to happen, but likely not until the end of the year.
Here’s a moment of complete honesty: I hate change. I get sad when I return from a few months away at college to find that my parents have painted one wall in my childhood home a different color. But let me tell you, in the case of Hey Marseilles, change has been nothing but good.
With the Feb. 5 release of their third full album, the self-titled “Hey Marseilles,” the once folksy band has exposed its fans to a whole new side of its persona. A side that lead singer Matt Bishop says has a “shiny kind of aesthetic.”
What changed? The group brought in a producer, Anthony Kilhoffer, who has won four Grammies for his work, among which are producing Yeezy’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and John Legend’s “Get Lifted.”
Don’t get me wrong though, Hey Marseilles has kept their essence. Their unique use of the cello, played by the talented Sam Anderson, was what initially attracted me to their sound. And they have seamlessly incorporated just as many string solos into tracks from their new album as they did in 2013 when I first encountered their music.
Hey Marseilles’ Jan. 29 concert at Lincoln Hall blended their two styles just as faultlessly as their album did. Because their album hadn’t dropped yet at the time of the show, there were moments when the crowd wasn’t able to sing along to all of the lyrics. Nonetheless, the crowd’s enthusiasm was palpable whenever an old favorite was played, most notably when they began “Rio,” and Anderson tossed a maraca into the crowd.
The woman directly in front of me caught it- not that I’m salty about that or anything. But it was still a great time for us non-maraca-players, which can be attested to by the woman who grabbed my hand and forced me to do a twirl as we belted the lyrics, “Love is a hazard in lower Manhattan/You cannot escape, and mustn’t be saddened/By men who abandon your eyes for another’s/There are always Brazilian boys to discover.”
The band played several new tracks such as “Perfect Okay,” their catchy opener, “Crooked Lines” and “West Coast,” their latest single. All of the songs seemed well received, but they always brought it back to the beginning, closing out their encore with “To Travels and Trunks,” a favorite from their first album.
Despite my hesitance to embrace change, especially Hey Marseilles’ newfound lack of an accordion, I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson from their speedy stylistic transition. While switching things up to find their identity was ultimately a great decision, sometimes it’s okay to take comfort in the familiar, and it’s always okay to embrace both.
WNUR: From listening to your latest single, it feels like you guys are going in a completely different direction now.
Bishop: We used to be more folksy, but I don’t even play acoustic guitar anymore. We’re working with a producer for the first time; Anthony Kilhoffer is his name. He primarily works in R&B and hip-hop and is based out of L.A., but he’s actually from Chicago. He definitely comes from a pop music world, and this is the first time we’ve had that kind of influence. [Our music] is a little bit more focused now.
Why did you decide to work with a producer?
Bishop: We’ve been a band for nine years and it’s the same core five of us. With the songwriting process, it can feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, you know? On our first couple of albums, we have a couple of songs that are six minutes long, and they have all this layered instrumentation. We really wanted to challenge ourselves by doing the “less is more” kind of formula. So that was the basic idea. Having a producer allows us to have one person make final decisions instead of having five people arguing.
You guys have been together so long. Don’t you get sick of each other?
Bishop: It’s kind of like a family. I grew up with four siblings, so that’s what it reminds me of. You see the best parts and the worst parts of everyone, and you learn to accommodate that.
You guys are based out of Seattle, and it seems like a lot of your lyrics have references to the West Coast…Are you homesick? What is it?
Bishop: Yeah, we’re not very creative…it’s mostly just when we’re writing songs, and we look up and see what’s around. I really need to stop using the words mountain and ocean and gray and city. But there’s also part of that that’s intentional. That’s the experience that we come.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Bishop: I just want them to like it. [laughs] When you’re an independent musician, you just want to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible, but you also want the people you respect, the musicians and music critics, to find something challenging and unique about your music. So I think that if we challenge people to hear it and go, “Huh. I want to hear that again,” then we’ve done our job.
What’s been your favorite part of touring?
Bishop: We are on the road a lot. I’ve ruined a lot of relationships that way, which then I turn into songs. [laughs] But it’s definitely hard being on the road so much. Our favorite part is probably just meeting people…. Every time we go to a different city, we have people that we hang out with who are genuinely nice consumers of music and it’s really fun to make those connections.
What was it like recording with NPR for a Tiny Desk Concert?
Bishop: It was the best. I’m a big “All Songs Considered” fan. Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson and all of those guys are kind of heroes in my mind. That was really cool
and definitely a highlight of our career so far.
Your new album, “Hey Marseilles,” [came] out February 5th. What should we expect from that? [Is it] more toward the style of your previous albums or your recent singles?
Bishop: The singles that we’ve released are pretty representative of the album as a whole… It’s a bit more produced and has more a shiny kind of aesthetic. They’re shorter songs with more electronic beats and less accordion.
How do you feel about having evolved so much stylistically?
Bishop: I love it. I mean I’m a singer/songwriter… So for me, the beauty of a well-written song is in its simplicity. I think our songs are still nuanced and complicated, but they’re not as overthought.
What’s your song writing process like?
Bishop: For this record, everybody wrote songs on their own time. It used to be that other people would write the music and then I’d write the lyrics and melodies on top of it. This time we each have three or four songs on the record and we came together to make sure they all sound aesthetically similar. But it brought diversity to the experience. I got tired of writing about, like I said, mountains and gray and oceans. Hearing what other people are writing about and having them engage in the entire process brought out some hidden talent and has been good for us all.
What do you expect for the future of Hey Marseilles?
Bishop: When you’re an independent musician, this record is kind of make or break. So hopefully, it’ll do well and we’ll make more following this same trajectory. It’s hard to know. We tend to make records every two or three years, so we’ll see if we’re still making music in that time frame. Right now, we’re focusing on this album and it feels fresh for us and for all of our fans. It’s hard to look past that.
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are a small-town Wisconsin band that plays old-school country, ragtime and vaudeville-style music. The guitar/fiddle duo released their sophomore album, Ocooch Mountain Home, a combination of covers of 1920’s folk songs and original work, in 2015. They played Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen Nov. 14, and WNUR chatted with them via phone the next day.
After learning that The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, a guitar and fiddle duo known for their old-school country jams, were playing a venue called Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But come the night of the show, it all made sense.
Honky Tonk’s rustic, Western-style wood paneled walls were covered with murals of icons like Frida Kahlo, and perfectly complemented the Sapsuckers’ toe tapping fiddle tunes. In the beginning of their second set, fiddle player and vocalist Nikki Grossman even broke out into folk songs by renowned Spanish-American guitarist Lydia Mendoza.
The pair played three sets, covering songs from their two albums while also incorporating covers of other artists. Grossman, along with Joe Hart, a vocalist and guitarist, kept the crowd guessing by mixing their upbeat tunes such as the instrumental “Toothbrush Ho-Down” with slower, more heartfelt songs.
One of the highlights of their performance was “The Crazy Rag,” a song from their recently released sophomore album, Ocooch Mountain Home. In an interview, Hart confessed that he wrote the love song for Grossman and joked that it “sealed the deal” for her.
In “The Broke (Ass) Waltz,” the duo complained about being struggling musicians, “The money’s run dry/ The money’s run dry/My pockets stay empty no matter how I try/Can anyone say how I’m gonna get by?”
But to keep the mood light despite the sometimes heartwrenching lyrics, Hart broke out the kazoo for a few rousing solos, all of which were crowd pleasers.
No matter the tempo of the song, audience members were dancing. Couples square danced and slow danced—even made dances up. A particularly drunk man was even dancing up and down the stage stairs during “The Crazy Rag” while clapping offbeat.
As evidenced by their band name and song titles, The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers clearly have a sense of humor. One could tell they are the kind of people you would want to invite to a party and they had audience members dancing and laughing all night long.
Both band members have unique vocals and immense talent and the duo’s onstage banter was a clear indication of how compatible they are.
Keep an eye out for them, because if they’re returning to Chicago you don’t want to miss it.
WNUR: What were your impressions of playing in Chicago, as it was your first time playing here?
Nikki Grossman: That particular place [Honky Tonk BBQ] it seemed like there were a lot of people that go there not exactly knowing who the band playing will be but knowing that they’ll be good, which is always a really good sign. There were a lot of people that really appreciated our music for various reasons and came up to us really friendly, so that was great.
Joe Hart: It seemed like people were really familiar with the kind of music that we were playing, which helps.
How did The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers originate?
Hart: I had another band, and my fiddle player had to bow out for a little because he had a new baby. Nikki and I knew each other from playing in the old music scene. People just kind of know each other and we had played together before in social settings. I had a couple weddings coming up I needed a fiddle player for, so I hired Nikki. We really hit it off. We make a good team and decided to make it official.
You’ve been commended in the past for your unique band name; is there a story behind “The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers”?
Grossman: Early on when we decided to be a band and we needed a name, we were trying to think of things we had in common that we were passionate about. One of those things was making maple syrup. We had been trying to think of a name related to that, with like sap and stuff. And we were like, “I don’t know, what about Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers?” And we liked it. Because it’s goofy and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so this is gonna be our band name. (laughs)
Ear to the Ground Music named you guys one of their “Five Americana Bands You Have to Hear to Believe.” What was your reaction to that?
Grossman: We couldn’t believe it! (laughs)
Hart: It’s always great to be recognized. We worked really hard on that record, [Ocooch Mountain Home], and we had a really good support team in place to help us do it. The guy that recorded and engineered, Tom Herbers, is a really well known Minneapolis producer and engineer. Our friend Patrick Harrison who played accordion with us helped a lot as well. It was a great process and it’s awesome to see it recognized in the press and know that other people like it, listen to it and enjoy it.
You definitely have influence from the 1920’s country scene, but in a press release you called yourselves a modern country band. How do you find the balance between these two distinct identities?
Hart: I guess when we call ourselves a modern country band we mean that we’re alive and we’re writing music. (laughs)
Grossman: It’s been a little confusing to people that we say that, so we probably shouldn’t say that as much, (laughs) but we mean it!
Hart: If you look at the music industry, the way it’s structured today, you obviously see that top level of star people, but there are thousands and thousands of musicians underneath them, like us, that are making a living and writing good material. As far as I’m concerned, that’s as much modern country as a country song on the Top 40.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Hart: We have a really eclectic taste. We listen to everything from the obvious 1920’s Brother bands and country western.
Grossman: The Blue Sky Boys and The Louvin Brothers are two of the big ones.
Hart: We cover a lot of those kinds of bands. But we also listen to hip-hop. We love the 70’s British folk scene…
In the beginning of the second set, Nikki, you had some amazing solos, some in Spanish. What were the influences behind those?
Grossman: Yep! Oh man. First of all, I don’t have any Latino heritage at all, just to straighten that out. (laughs) I just kind of accidentally stumbled on that kind of music at one point and got obsessed with it, particularly one artist called Lydia Mendoza. She was American but spoke and only sang in Spanish. She played a 12-string guitar. Actually the guitar I was playing is a replica of one of her guitars. It was made by a friend who lives in Madison. I got into her music and I learned enough Spanish so that I could learn the songs. I was having a lot of fun with it, and then our friend later made that guitar for me. Ever since, I’ve been trying to incorporate her songs into our sets. I always get a good reaction and the songs are beautiful.
Hart: It’s also very parallel to the other kinds of music we like to do…
You guys just released Ocooch Mountain Home this past year, but what do you see as coming up next for you?
Hart: Right now we’re really focused on booking our summer. We would really love to play more festivals. They have a really good family-centered vibe, and they’re a lot of fun. We’ll start thinking about recording in the fall of next year. We don’t have a solid plan yet, but we’ve kicked around a lot of ideas.
To keep up with The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, visit their website.
“I want no other.”
The English translation of Autre Ne Veut—the stage name of Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Arthur Ashin—manifested in the emotional gravity of Ashin’s every word when he performed with his band at Lincoln Hall on Oct. 18. In the midst of their tour supporting Autre Ne Veut’s transcendent third album, Age of Transparency, Ashin and co. put on a memorable show for a crowd of mesmerized Chicagoans.
Experimental duo Mazed kicked off the night, but it wasn’t until they returned to stage later with Autre Ne Veut that the audience was made aware of the fact that they were also in Ashin’s band. It was a treat to see the members of Mazed transform from the haunting noises of their opening set to the equally impressive jazz drums and vocal harmonies of Age of Transparency alongside Ashin.
After Mazed, a more sonically polished duo—appropriately name GEMS—played a few songs off their debut EP as well as their new album, Kill the One You Love. GEMS’s theatrical set provided a smooth transition from the weirder sounds of Mazed to the sometimes-jarring-sometimes-irresistibly-catchy pop of Autre Ne Veut.
Autre Ne Veut took the stage to roaring applause. Ashin hadn’t played here, he noted, since a Pitchfork Music Festival Aftershow in 2013. That was the year that Autre Ne Veut’s breakout album, Anxiety, propelled Ashin’s name into blogosphere fame. According to Ashin, Anxiety was the first album in a trilogy, with Age of Transparency acting as part two. The relationship between the albums is expressed in their cover art: Anxiety’s two pairs of gloved hands holding a rectangular wooden frame and Age of Transparency’s two pairs of bare hands holding a clear rectangle. While Anxiety explored social anxiety and fear of death, Age of Transparency probes those anxieties with the magnifying glass of technology. The album conveys Ashin’s internal struggle to maintain his hold on human connection in the age of disillusioned surveillance and social media. That’s what the electronic blips interrupting Ashin’s call for his “baby” in Age of Transparency’s leading track, “On and On (Reprise),” seem to represent when juxtaposed with the same first word on “Play by Play,” Anxiety’s leading track, where Ashin reaches for the high note for his “baby” and hits it flawlessly. The lead-in on Age of Transparency doesn’t sound as pretty, but that’s the way it is in a world where everyone’s always plugged in.
Although Ashin intentionally places jarring, unexpected sounds throughout his latest album to make a point, his performance was consistently transcendent—without interruption. Maybe it was the inherent depth of human connection demanded by a live setting, or maybe it was the range of emotions conveyed through Ashin’s powerful voice—it was probably both. He wouldn’t even let the mic stand get in his way; he moved it off to the side of the stage the moment he stepped out, and it stayed there for the duration of the show so it couldn’t prevent him from writhing around and stumbling to the ground in emotional bursts. Not even the elevation of the stage could get in the way of Ashin’s efforts to connect with the crowd. Toward the end of the show, he walked right off the stage and parted the sea of concert-goers so he could sing at the far back end of the room before returning to the stage.
The set started with the one-two punch of new songs “Cold Winds” and “Panic Room,” followed by a mix of other tracks off Age of Transparency and fan favorites from Anxiety. Age of Transparency’s “World War Pt. 2” came during the first part of the set with a stutter of an anti-chorus that sounded like a confession you can’t release because of some electronic fence blocking your brain (“I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I…”). It was an interesting choice to place “World War Pt. 2” a few songs before Anxiety’s “World War,” which came during the second half of the set as the band wound down into slower, more intimate territory. “World War” was an opportunity for Ashin to reflect on his own, with nothing but his keyboard and his voice, striving to reignite the passion he felt he lost for whoever is implicated in “I want no other”—a relationship that modern interferences and technology threatened to ruin.
Passion reigned victorious during the final song, which is also the final song on Age of Transparency: “Get Out.” It was a joyous finale that resolved an internal conflict with a seemingly obvious realization: “When the light shines out and you don’t know why, you really need people to tell you what it’s about.” When you’re constantly plugged in, though, it’s easy to forget that you’re missing out on real interpersonal connection. And then, when the power strip is suddenly yanked out, you might realize how lonely being constantly “connected” has really made you. No Wi-Fi, media network or program with a power button can replicate the comfort of human interaction. As the audience and band clapped in unison to the second half of the song, I found myself tearing up and unable to wipe the smile off my face.
Upon the audience’s insistence, Ashin and his band reemerged for one more song, “Play by Play.” He continued his quest for genuine connection by bringing a few audience members on stage to sing and dance along, including me and my fellow photographer Lauren. I’m a terrible singer and dancer, and I usually get embarrassed in front of crowds, but he reached out to bring me up to the stage in such an act of pure passion for, well, humanity that I couldn’t refuse. I’m not sure whether he chose me to come up because I was standing right in front of him or because he caught me crying during “Get Out,” but I’m glad he did. Making a fool of myself onstage next to him and Lauren was a moment I’ll never forget.
Whether it was out of respect for the content of the songs or because of the completely enrapturing performance, there was a remarkably small number of phone sightings throughout the show. I forced myself to put away my camera after the first few songs even though it was just to take photos for this review, and I didn’t take any pictures on my phone like I usually do at other concerts. I took one Snapchat video of Ashin singing in the crowd to post to my story, but realized after the fact that my mic wasn’t on so you couldn’t even hear the sound. I took that as a sign that it was silly to try to capture that moment in the first place; why worry about filming it when it was happening right before my very eyes? It’s true that refraining from the use of technology actually makes you remember a concert better—it’s easier to remember the details when you can associate them with what you were feeling at the time, not the device that was blocking your view. I remembered more details of this show than any show where I felt compelled to commemorate the moment on my phone.
It was a triumphant reminder that despite the façade of connection posed by technology, a profound level of human connection can be maintained even in 2015 if we just put away our devices and engage in the present.
WNUR Media Team
Taryn Nobil: Writer, Photographer | Lauren Harris: Photographer, Editor | Dong Jin “DJ” Oh: Copy Editor
I dare you to find a room in the Chicago area that experienced greater catharsis than Beat Kitchen during the group sing-a-long of The Hotelier’s “An Introduction to the Album,” the opening track on their widely-acclaimed 2014 sophomore album Home, Like Noplace Is There.
Spirit of the Beehive, a relatively new act, was the first opener for The Hotelier, playing post-rock influenced emo and kicking off the awesome night of punk rock music.
The second opener was Oso Oso, a band out of Long Island that’s been creating a lot of buzz for their first full-length album, Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters. They played several songs from Real Stories, some from their earlier self-titled EP and even reminded the audience how much money DraftKings.com is giving away every single day. Highlights included their single “Josephine” and the closer of their older EP, “Mike Isn’t Down With Punctuation.”
Next up was the only Midwestern band on the bill, Cleveland’s Runaway Brother. From their opening track, “Blueberries,” the band displayed an impressive capacity for harmonizing in the nosebleed range. They tore through a set heavy in songs from their 2015 album Mother, including “Harvest,” “Catch,” “Hold Me Down,” “Virgin Rock,” “Reprise” and “Moth.” Singer Jacob Lee’s voice was a force to be reckoned with through all eight songs.
And that brings us to our headliner. By the time The Hotelier took the stage, the crowd had expanded from a few people in a room to a packed house that stretched almost to the exit. And as they began their first song, a fast-paced rendition of “In Framing,” it was clear they intended to satisfy every person present. From there, they launched right into the lauded confessional “Your Deep Rest.”
The Hotelier then played a rousing rendition of “Title Track (There is a Light)” from their debut album It Never Goes Out before returning to tracks from their second album. They announced they had finished recording their third record, to be released in 2016, and previewed a couple of songs; they even dedicated one called “Sun” to their merch guy for his birthday. (Happy birthday, Matt!)
One of the major highlights of their performance was their performance of “Introduction.” Even within a genre built on diary-esque confessions, The Hotelier is incredibly willing to tear open and examine their existences on the stage. The literary lyricism of “Introduction” flows almost like a spoken word poem with melody, and the crowd chanted every word with enthusiasm. The small, rabid fandom of the emo genre comes from the crowd’s ability to identify with the performers, who sport the same plaid flannels, cool-guy-jackets and emotional struggles as the audiences they play to. The concert felt like a group therapy session, where everybody came together and sorted through their issues; the band played the part of the psychiatrist on the couch, prodding the right issues to help alleviate everything.
The other major moment was the final bars of the last song, “Dendron.” The closing stanza of the track is an immensely powerful admission of guilt, ending with a screamed “Tell me again that it’s all in my head,” a reminder that everyone has their demons, even if they can’t be seen.
Favorite music of 2015 thus far: Runners in the Nerved World – The Sidekicks, Heck No, Nancy – The Obsessives, Painted Shut – Hop Along, AOID – Ratboys. And check out LiL PEEP.
Reasons behind the band name: I’m obsessed with bears, and the Chicago Bears are my favorite football team.
Thoughts on Chicago: It’s our second time playing Beat Kitchen (first in 2014 with Marietta) but our fifth time playing Chicago. But at the same time we’ve only actually spent five days here. It’s definitely a cool city, cool place to play.
Thoughts on the tour: It’s our first time doing a tour with the same bands every night, and we already knew two of them, which is cool. And this time we’re not playing a bunch of basements. It’s just really cool to be associated with these bands, like it’s an honor (not to be cliché).
Thoughts on the current punk rock scene: There’s definitely a clear divide, like there’s lots of bands doing cool shit, but also lots of bands being kind of ignorant of the scene. Like lots of bands play shows with no regard for the people they’re playing to and without a good understanding of how to handle a crowd. The other day there were a bunch of people in the audience who were definitely there just to mess with the guys in The Hotelier, and they handled it really well. It’s cool to see when people can do that, like handle it and be respectful.
Thoughts on punk rock as an underrepresented genre: I think because it’s not a super mainstream community, you can keep a lot of dialogue open. If there were more people in it, I think the ability to really be honest about things would start to disappear.
WNUR Media Team
Jason Sloan: Writer, interviewer | Nina Matti: Copy Editor | Lauren Harris: Editor