“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