Philadelphia-bred but Chicago-based rockers Panda Riot seem to have planted themselves firmly in Chi-town’s local music scene. At Saturday’s vinyl release party for their fourth album, “Infinity Maps,” one thing was clear: Panda Riot has built a vibrant community around their dreamy, shoegaze-y sound.
Two opening acts meant that Panda Riot didn’t step on Beat Kitchen’s stage until midnight, but their performances made it hard to complain. First up was Sleepwalk, a local band consisting of four angry-looking men dressed all in black. Rocking a bald head and septum piercing, the lead singer delivered soft but impressive vocals backed up by driving drums and distorted guitars, resulting in what sounded like an American Football-Pixies hybrid. Next was Silver Liz, who’s set got off to a rocky start due to issues with sound levels, but effectively redeemed themselves by the last three songs. Guitarist Matt Wagner played fervently without making their sound too harsh, and once singer Carrie Wagner hit her stride, one couldn’t help but compare them to Beach House.
Once Panda Riot took the stage, there was no doubt that they were a cohesive front, which makes sense as guitarist Brian Cook and singer Rebecca Scott have been making music together since 2005. This specific show was to celebrate the release of the first vinyl pressing of their new album Infinity Maps, which came out in 2017. After a few songs, Scott explained that the pressing company had actually pressed the vinyls incorrectly and were printing new ones as soon as possible. This meant that anyone who bought a vinyl at the show would be mailed a new one as well, spurring excited shouts of “BOGO” from the audience.
Although the flaw with the vinyl pressing was a definite bummer, it didn’t seem to stop Panda Riot from celebrating. In fact, by the end of the show, they had half the crowd in a dancing daze. A new addition to their usual set was a light show projected onto a hanging white sheet, which only enhanced their ethereal sound. However, this didn’t mean the band lacked energy. Bass player Cory Osborne made sure this was never a question by diving into the crowd and playing there for several songs, slowing his pace only to kiss his girlfriend. Fervent rounds of applause accompanied the end of every song, and the overall intimate vibe of the show made me feel like everyone there was in the same group of friends (and maybe they were).
Panda Riot played much of Infinity Maps, duly impressing the crowd with their performance. Stand out songs included “Helios/June 20th,” “Ghosting,” “Double Dream” and “Arrows”. The band proved to play the strongest when in unity in terms of chord progressions, and were very solid all around in their musicality. Although Panda Riot is still very much local, this new album could be what causes them to make it big in the states (they’ve already cultivated fan bases in Japan and Taiwan). From this vinyl release show, it appears that they have what it takes.
“Fuck you means I love you at a Brockhampton concert,” shouted Kevin Abstract, “so everyone say fuck you.” The audience responded “FUCK YOU” with resounding energy. “Now everyone say I’m gay.” Everyone I could see shouted “I’M GAY” at the top of their lungs. Kevin stepped back into the flashing lights with the rest of Brockhampton and they played “JELLO” — one of the groups many recent hits. The building shook as the sea of people bounced up and down.
Brockhampton, the self-proclaimed “boy band” out of Texas, formed in 2015 after meeting on an internet forum for Kanye West fans. They released a mixtape in 2016 and their first three albums throughout the latter half of 2017. The trilogy (entitled Saturation I, II and III, respectively) lived up to its name and saturated the internet with a new type of hip-hop. The 14 person band features vocalists, producers, videographers, web developers and managers. The concert was just as non-traditional as their sound, capturing an angst in the age of the internet attitude that resonates with many millennials.
The first surprise of the night was the lack of an opener–Brockhampton decided they could warm up the audience on their own. The show began with a masked Ameer Vann walking out on stage wearing an orange jumpsuit over a white t-shirt. The crowd screamed and lurched forward as Kevin Abstract, Merlyn Wood, Joba, Dom Mclennon and Matt Champion walked out after him; they all wore the same orange jumpsuits and white t-shirts.
After the first song Kevin Abstract asked the crowd to clear a large circle and, when the beat dropped, “to go fucking crazy.” They played “STAR” and the moshing did not disappoint; within 45 seconds I was lying on the ground on top of two other people, with one person on top of me. The fans were nice enough and I was quickly pulled out of the pile of bodies, but the mayhem had just begun.
Despite the 48 songs the boy band has released in the last eights months, it felt like every audience member knew every lyric that was sung. Brockhampton encouraged the singalong, frequently cutting the music and letting the crowd scream the choruses.
Near the end of the show Kevin Abstract sat down and said there was no more music because he had something very serious to talk about, “Brockhampton is breaking up.” The crowd booed and Kevin laughed. “Now Matt Champion wants to tell you a joke,” clearly caught off guard Matt Champion told a strange improvised story about Dom wetting the bed and Merlyn drinking it. Most people did not laugh, but I was impressed with the spontaneity of the moment.
Next Bearface, the member responsible for some of the slower jams on the Saturation albums, came out and serenaded the audience with his disembodied voice and airy guitar. He started with “SUMMER”–the last song from Saturation II. The solo was a welcome break from the controlled bouncing, pushing and chaos that dominated the rest of the show.
After Bearface walked off, the other five jumpsuited vocalists came back on and played two more songs. Before leaving, Kevin Abstract asked the audience to boo them off stage. After a long sustained boo, I left drenched in sweat but smiling.
In the past six months Brockhampton has swept the internet with their new take on hip-hop. In their “Love Your Parents Tour” they are showing fans that their creative spirit is burning brighter than ever. If the boy band continues in their pursuit of stardom and innovation, Brockhampton will be a name to watch closely.
Schubas Tavern on a cold Thursday night became the perfect site for Shame’s Chicago stop on their latest USA tour. Schubas Tavern was giving off a distinctly church-hall atmosphere, with a few colored lights projected above the drum set and red lights illuminating the band. The intricate carved wooden arch, which framed the small stage, completed the venue’s transformation from iconic back-of-a-bar stage to post-punk church. Shame is a five-piece South London indie-rock band made up of: Eddie Green, Charlie Forbes, Josh Finerty, Sean Coyle-Smith and Charlie Steen. The band members are barely out of their teens, but have toured the US multiple times, and come to this show fresh from a set of Australian festival dates. At Schubas Tavern Shame treated us to new album, which takes the name of British Sunday morning staple Songs of Praise. However, instead of choir boys singing heavenly hymns, we were faced with the angsty post-punk of five lad’s lamenting the current state of British society.
The congregation consisted mainly of an older crowd with glasses and beards in tow, but there were also a few younger members of the flock. Warmed up by openers The Gotobeds, Pittsburgh indie-rockers, the crowd was ready to do some serious head-nodding. By the time Shame made their way to the stage the house was full. Responding to a crowd member’s half-hearted cheer, Shame gave a few joking screams of their own, marking the start of the band’s attempt to bring the crowd out of their comfort zone.
The preacher was front man Charlie Steen, who took to the stage, cowboy hat in tow, to ramp up the applause. Shame started the sermon with the first song from their album Dust on Trail, a chord heavy opener with Steen singing in a low monotone, inviting the crowd to “walk with me,” before rising to a more hoarse shouting and climaxing with a guitar solo. The crowd dutifully nodded along.
The second hymn of the evening was “Concerte,” featuring shame’s characteristically catchy guitar riffs. With Steen removing the cowboy hat and reaching forward to the crowd, lightly patting their heads, blessing them in turn. Steen and bassist Josh Finerty started their signature call and response vocal lines, adding a depth and variety to the their performance. With their hit single “One Rizla” we were able, for the first time, to really hear the lyrics. The vocals could generally have done with a higher volume. As Steen’s ironic and gritty lyrics were lost slightly on “Tasteless”, a quick paced dissection of the music industry and mass consumption.
As we headed into the second half of the album, the band started to get more into their groove bring the high energy performance which has come to be expected from a shame show. During the ring guitar chords of “Tasteless” Steen held his arms open to the crowd, welcoming them to come come closer. During “Friction” we saw the resurrection of Christ but a shirtless and nipple rubbing one. Steen started pacing the stage encouraging the crowd to not be afraid.
The band then departed from the album line up, skipping ahead to the end track “Angie,” a slower break from the playful anger of “Tasteless” and “Friction.” “Angie” an ode to a young girls suicide, with distinct Oasis guitar and sing-along chorus vibes. On the penultimate song “Lampoon,” shame ramped up the energy, and the crowd responded by forming a small but dedicated mosh pit. During their final song “Gold Hole,” a tale of lecherous love, Steen attempted to walk on the crowd, while bassist Finerty fully let loose falling on to his back and bouncing back up with surprising agility.
Green kept pace throughout the whole show with constant head thrashing, bent over while playing some fantastic riffs. Smith kept the songs glued together with a driven rhythm guitar. Drummer Forbes never missed a beat, providing the driving force of the sermon. With the album a short and snappy 39 minutes, the set was over in less than an hour. It would have been great to hear a few of shame’s older songs, such as “Visa Vulture,” which has a great ironical croning tone.
Leaving through the sweaty crowd of Schubas to smoke cigarettes and talk more with fans, Shame had successfully converted a crowd of folded-arm head-nodders to a congregation with hands held high in praise. Songs of Praise is certainly an album to be reckoned with, and Shame a band to keep a close eye on.
On Wednesday, Feb 14, Omar Apollo and The Slaps dazzled Schubas Tavern with their melodic falsettos and gritty guitar riffs.
First up was The Slaps, a Chicago based band. As I was later informed by the many Depaul hipsters in the room, The Slaps are based in Depaul and are well established in the local indie rock scene. Rand Kelly, Josh Resing, and Ramsey Bell Book entered the stage and they began with their song “See Her.” The crowd responded immediately, taking part in a collective headbob.
I was particularly intrigued with the drummer, who had a very eccentric air about him. He would occasionally laugh maniacally into the mic, but otherwise, he stuck to his drum set. It was almost as if he was in his own bubble, completely detached from the rest of the world. At one point, his drumstick flew out of his hand, but it didn’t faze him; he played on with the palm of his hand.
The lead singer’s guitar riffs were so impressive that they caused someone in the crowd to yell:
“My mans got magic fingers!”
And magic fingers did he have.
The Slaps certainly did not disappoint with their dreamy, indie surf set, but the anticipation for the headliner to take the stage was palpable. The crowd wanted Omar Apollo.
Finally, Omar Apollo took the stage causing the crowd to erupt in cheers, and the posse of girls behind me to shrilly yell “Te amo!” in his direction. At first, I scoffed at them, finding humor in their intensity and passion, but by the end of the night I shared their sentiments. His humble demeanor and soulful tenor made it impossible for the whole crowd not to become completely enamored with him.
The 19 year old Indiana based artist began his set with his song “Come Over,” and the ambience of Schubas Tavern shifted completely. The cool blue lights and fierce staccato of The Slaps were replaced with a soft pink hue and Omar Apollo’s devastatingly beautiful voice, which, might I say, was oh so appropriate for a Valentine’s Day performance.
It really started to feel like Valentine’s Day in the middle of his set. While Omar Apollo performed “Heart”, his bassist began handing out red roses to the crowd (Luckily I got one!). The many couples in the room pulled each other close and swayed gently to Omar Apollo’s gut wrenching testament to unrequited love.
The next song in Omar Apollo’s set was “Algo.” Earlier in the concert he had begun pausing for the crowd to sing along in very short intervals, almost as if he was unsure if the crowd was well acquainted with his music. But by this point, he relied almost completely on the crowd to complete the song. And they did. Terribly loudly. Not a single person skipped a lyric. As the scene unfolded, Omar Apollo’s face beamed with pure joy and amazement at how many devoted fans he had. It was a wholesome scene to watch. In fact, it was the second wholesome scene of the night. The first being Omar Apollo’s mom, who was coincidentally standing right next to me, handing her son a rose and telling him how much she loved him. She was perhaps the biggest fangirl in the crowd—it was amazing. She never strayed from reminding people around her, including me, that he was, indeed, her son.
As the night winded down, I found myself wishing that his setlist would stretch on. He thanked the crowd, and began to walk off stage. But I wasn’t ready for the night to end quite yet, and neither was the crowd. We all began to yell “Encore!” with enough fervor to bring Omar Apollo back on stage.
Omar Apollo smiled bashfully and ended the night with his latest single “ugotme.”
All in all, it was a fantastic concert. Omar Apollo’s exceptional performance and the intimacy of the venue made it the perfect way to spend Valentine’s day.
It’s always amazing to see the progression of an artist’s career, and, as an avid Omar Apollo fan, it was truly wonderful to witness his growth from SoundCloud artist to headlining a sold-out concert in Chicago.
Omar Apollo is definitely an up-and-coming artist you want to keep your eye on! Check out his music!
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.