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Yellow Days at Lincoln Hall

By Jordan Walker

Photos by Finn Hewes

Nov 15, 2018

As individuals packed into Lincoln Hall on Monday night, all were unsuspecting of the utter astonishment they were soon to witness. With an audience connecting to the music while experiencing slight unfamiliarity, it’s safe to say that Yellow Days brought forth an unforgettable appearance. With nine songs on the setlist, Yellow Days won over the audience once again with an encore.

However, the audience seemed to be most engaged by the artistic choices made by singer George van den Broek, drummer Milo Goldsmith, bassist Hector Delicious, and keyboardist Oliver Cadman. Allowing their emotions to guide them, the musicians varied the tempo, intermittently slowing for a deeper effect, and speeding up to increase the audience’s energy. Similarly, lead singer Broek intermixed his personal taste in which he lifted the pitch of his voice with the end of each phrase. With the combination of of each individual’s artistic input, an intimate sound was created that Yellow Days and the audience alike knew would forever only live in that moment.

Another incredible aspect to Yellow Day’s performance Monday night were the visual effects that accompanied each song. Depending on the mood, colorful lights would shine a pleasant mix of warm and cool tones, reflecting ambient vibes of mellowness and energy. Similarly, smoke would become visible through colorful beams of light and add to the visibly pleasing effect of the performance.

After Yellow Days performed, the crowd roared for an encore and the musicians returned to the stage with intent to unite the crowd in melody. They proceeded to execute Etta James’s ‘I Saw The Light,’ with the classic Yellow Days hypnotically beautiful flair. The cover itself provided an intimacy that allowed the audience to feel as if they were with Yellow Days in a practice session.

Furthermore, Lincoln Hall itself proved to be an impressive venue. With seats lining the upper balcony and ample floor space below; there was it was impossible to have been in an inconvenient spot. Given the energy of the room, it’s safe to say that Yellow Day’s put on an unforgettable experience in Lincoln Hall.

Profile: Beach Fossils at Bottom Lounge

By Ellise Shafer

Photos by Christian Wade

Nov 7, 2018

Brooklynites Beach Fossils may be considered the pioneers of bedroom pop, but after the critical success of 2017’s Somersault, the band has reached new heights that are difficult to confine.

The last stop on their co-headlining east coast tour with Wavves and opener Kevin Krauter brought them to Chicago’s Bottom Lounge for two nights. Before Wednesday’s show, WNUR got the chance to catch up with Beach Fossils about touring in Asia, the indie music scene and what Post Malone really smells like.

From left to right: Tommy Davidson, Jack Doyle Smith and Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils.

Beach Fossils had its genesis with the self-titled solo project of lead singer Dustin Payseur in 2010 and eventually added touring members, most notably Zachary Cole Smith, who eventually left to form DIIV. Clash the Truth was released in 2013 after bassist Jack Doyle Smith and guitarist Tommy Davidson joined, but it was not until Somersault that the Contemporary Beach Fossils Experience (as put by Payseur) was born.

“Writing with other people definitely changes stuff up rather than just writing by myself because we all have a different style,” Payseur said. “I don’t think that what we make together would sound like any of us by ourselves.”

Although their mellow, synthy sound and ocean-related name seems to lend itself more to LA than their native New York, Payseur likes to think of their sound as an antithesis to the hectic nature of the city.

“There are certain artists with a very New York sound that’s noisy and abrasive like the sound of the city,” Payseur said. “For me, making Beach Fossils sound pleasant was almost escapism from living in New York.”

Last year’s Somersault was the first of their albums to be released on Bayonet Records, a label started by Payseur and his wife. Payseur said that releasing on his own label was a natural step, adding to the DIY quality that Beach Fossils’ music has had since Payseur recorded their first album in his bedroom.

Wavves, who co-headlined the tour with Beach Fossils.

It is this DIY approach that has inspired a slew of artists in the increasingly present bedroom pop genre. Payseur said that its rise has allowed for a lot more variety within the industry.

“I just love that anyone who owns a computer now essentially has their own recording studio,” Payseur said. “The cheaper equipment gets, the more creative people have access to the medium. Making music shouldn’t be an exclusive thing.”

Although Beach Fossils started out in a bedroom, their range has since expanded worldwide. Last spring took the band on tour in Asia, where they experienced an entirely different culture surrounding their music.

“[In Asia] they’re very adamant about wanting to meet you,” Davidson said. “They’re very patient and enthusiastic, but a very reserved audience.”

“They’re extremely appreciative in a very different way than they are in the U.S.,” Payseur added. “It’s a little nerve-wracking because we’re used to playing for crowds that go crazy, but they are very silent. They’re really paying attention.”

This observation has affected the way that the band performs now.

“It made us kind of change our live game a little bit,” Smith said. “Now, we have a little bit less dead air in between songs.”

This turned out to be true. Beach Fossils played a 15-song set in pretty much 45 minutes. After an SNL-style introduction of each member, there was not much talking in-between songs except for the occasional exaggerated “Ohhh yeah,” from Payseur. The fast pace of their set lent itself beautifully to the crowd’s bouncy moshing against their lo-fi yet guitar-driven sound. Eventually, crowd surfers emerged, with Payseur himself joining in during “Generational Synthetic.”

However, the highlight of their set was toward the end, when Payseur traded the venue lighting for the crowd’s phone flashlights during an intimate performance of “Sleep Apnea.” Although most people’s phones were in the air not to provide light but to record the song (as I admittedly did), it was a moment that brought together a few hundred strangers.

For the encore, Davidson asked the crowd if they wanted to hear a bop or a banger. The response was unintelligible, but when the band launched into “This Year,” everyone was content. “Careless” followed, and then they played Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” Like, for real. Normally, this decision would make me cringe to no end. But honestly, it was kind of heartwarming. Beach Fossils called out members of Wavves and Kevin Krauter’s band, which resulted in about 15 people on stage, playing each other’s instruments and belting that famous hook. Even though that many people gave the impression of musical cacophony, the cover actually sounded pretty good.

Although it may seem out of place for a band of their caliber to play a cover for their last song, Payseur finds them overlooked in the music world. In fact, he just released a cover of Yung Lean’s “Agony,” paired with a music video he filmed while walking the streets of New York.

Yung Lean is not the only rapper the group has been associated with – there are rumors of a collab in the works with none other than Post Malone. Although this was neither confirmed nor denied in the interview, the band was extremely enthusiastic about their love for “Posty.”

“Right after Stoney came out, I was watching Youtube interviews with [Post Malone] and I was like, this dude is fucking hilarious. He just reminds me of people that we hang out with and ourselves,” Payseur said. “So I hit him up on Twitter and he DMed me his phone number. When we went to LA, we went to his studio and hung out for a week.”

Smith then addressed something that had been at the forefront of my mind: what does Post Malone actually smell like?

“People say he smells bad and I’m like, ‘Dude, he smells so good,’” Smith said. “He’s a millionaire, do you really think he smells bad?”

“He smells like leather,” Payseur added. “He’s fresh as fuck.”

Payseur and Davidson think that the indie genre could actually learn a little bit from contemporary hip-hop artists such as Post Malone.

“I feel like the cultural renaissance in hip-hop right now is embracing much more variety than indie music is,” Davidson said.

“[Indie music] is just become a little stagnant,” Payseur added. “Breaking down barriers in genre is essential, because indie’s not a fucking genre – it just means that you’re releasing something independent of a major label.”

When asked if there is a new album on the horizon, Payseur replied, “We’re always recording. If we’re in New York, we’re recording, whether it’s for an album or whatever. It’s just what we do when we hang out.”

“We’re either at a diner or recording,” Smith clarified, which spurred a debate on the best diners in New York and Los Angeles.

After a six-minute digression, the band agreed that the best diners are Court Square Diner and Champs Diner in New York, along with Fred 62 and Cafe 50s in LA.

Of the milkshakes at Cafe 50s, Payseur said, “Those are fucking flames.” And then, after a pause: “Sorry, we’re way more passionate about diners than anything.”

Although they were strangely passionate about diners (and Post Malone’s leathery scent), I’d say that Beach Fossils are at least equally as passionate about their music. With a solidified lineup, captivating live show and a hunger for innovation, they have definitely outgrown the bedroom. Now, they’re ready to take over the entire house.

Gus Dapperton at Subterranean

By Slade Warnken

Photos by Ying Dai

Oct 26, 2018

One of the most annoyingly catchy and persistent genres of today’s trendy online world is bedroom pop. Feeling like an 80’s synth-pop dream, bedroom pop is largely defined by its lo-fi nature and the fact that it’s often created in the homes of the artists themselves instead of through a music studio. Because of this, almost anyone with a Mac, Logic, and a half-decent stringed instrument can put out a bedroom project, but it takes a lot more than that to stand out.

The genre’s most recent star is a singer that goes by the name Gus Dapperton. Dapperton is a New York recording artist whose raspy high-pitched vocals seem to have cut through the noise of mediocrity. Unsigned and self-produced, Dapperton’s first hit came with his pop single I’m Only Snacking, and he hasn’t looked back since. Performing at the Subterranean on Chicago’s West Side, Dapperton was assisted by a minimal band of only a keyboard player, drummer and bassist. Switching between playing guitar and simply singing, he did not disappoint the hungry crowd of bedroom pop connoisseurs as Dapperton’s sister played the shiny synths the genre has defined itself with.

While Dapperton’s charm and flying kicks captured the attention of the audience, his opener Beshkin immersed the audience in a thick ocean of sound that left little room to do anything but listen. When he first walked out onto the stage, it was just him, his guitar and his laptop. Yet somehow with only these tools, Beshkin’s music had a thickness that seemed to envelop the hearts and ears of the audience. As each song seamlessly transitioned into the next, whenever there was a break in the music it almost came as a shock that such a thing as silence could still exist.

Maybe it was his charisma that filled in the empty sonic space, but looking at the crowd it seemed like it didn’t matter what Dapperton did. They seemed to be simply in awe that someone so similar in age and experience to them had been able to manifest a music career out of the inner workings of a MacBook. Watching him tease the audience with his presence as he allowed the front row to reach out and touch him for the briefest of moments before pulling away, it was like he was experimenting with just how much power he truly had over the audience–something I think any person would be curious about if, over the span of a year, they suddenly had thousands of screaming fans all over the country. Finishing their set with a cover of the Isley Brother’s single Twist and Shout, the cover felt like a promise for more synth-poppy goodness that would be coming our way very soon.

Grapetooth at Thalia Hall

By Ellise Shafer

Photos by Layton Guyton/Ellise Shafer

Nov 11, 2018

“Sunday night! Up all night! Red wine in my blood tonight!”

This was the mantra of Grapetooth’s album release show on Nov. 11 at Thalia Hall In the Round. Having just dropped their self-titled debut record two days before, the concert’s sold-out status was quite impressive – though not surprising.

Grapetooth is a Chicago duo consisting of Clay Frankel (of Twin Peaks fame) and Chris Bailoni (also known as producer Home-Sick). Their New Wave-inspired sound harkens back to 80s pacemakers such as The Cure and New Order, resulting in infectiously danceable synth melodies.

Their show was part of Thalia Hall’s series In the Round, in which a stage is placed in the middle of the floor, creating an intimate DIY environment. This concept was perfect for Grapetooth, who started out playing rowdy house shows around Chicago.

Openers Sports Boyfriend and Dehd, also local bands, laid a great foundation for the main event. Most notably, Dehd got the crowd moving around with their heavy surf-rock vibes, especially during their last song “Fire of Love.”

Before anyone was ready, Grapetooth cut through the crowd to get on the tiny stage, joined by Cadien James of Twin Peaks on drums and Justin Vittori on bongos and chimes (an interesting role). James and Vittori were dressed in all black except for white bucket hats, whereas Frankel and Bailoni donned camo hooded jumpsuits complete with neon green stripes.The band launched directly into “Violent,” their first single. The crowd immediately went crazy, forcing those directly next to the stage to bend at the waist. Grapetooth’s energy was unmatchable, although the only person who seemed to be consistently playing an instrument was James, the drummer. Bailoni touched the keys occasionally, while Frankel made his way around the stage with his mic. Vittori only seemed to play the bongos during the repetition of the mantra after each song (“Sunday night! Up all night! Red wine in my blood tonight!”), and who knows what those chimes were for. However, it’s possible that – despite my second row spot – I just couldn’t see well enough to know. The crowd was that mobile. Still, it was one of the most fun sets I’ve been to. I felt like a part of something great while getting splashed with red wine during none other than “Red Wine,” not being able to feel my feet during “Blood,” and waving my arms during slow jam “Hallelujah.”

But the best was yet to come. As Frankel announced that it was time for their last song of the night, a realization was felt throughout the audience– they had not yet played “Trouble.” As the first few notes rang out, a crowd-wide consensus resulted in the rushing of the stage by more than half of the concertgoers. Suddenly, I was basically on top of Frankel as he sang the catchy chorus: “Trouble/ Trouble comin’ down/ I don’t mind livin’/ I don’t mind givin’ it up.” As the stage overflowed, people fell off, but found their way right back up again. It was exhilarating.The afterbuzz of Grapetooth’s show stayed with me throughout the rest of the night. Somehow, the shitty pizza I ate afterwards tasted delicious, and as my friends and I got off of the L at Howard, the purple line was miraculously waiting for us.

Windhand at Subterranean

By Finn Hewes

Nov 7, 2018

As Satan’s Satyrs took the stage Wednesday night, the mostly middle-aged crowd filling out the cramped, beer-soaked room at Subterranean seemed largely uninterested. Seeing jackets, shirts, and beanies in support of the main attraction of the night all around me, it was clear that the four-piece would have to earn the crowd’s attention despite their history of collaboration with the fellow Relapse Records signees Windhand.

The lead singer and guitarist Clayton “Claythanas” Burgess chose to sport a leopard print tank and leather jacket, corresponding nicely with his luscious, curly power bangs and a cheetah print Marshall head. The whole band gave off a very Guitar Hero vibe. Songs “Show Me Your Skull” and “Permanent Darkness” flexed their technicality and otherworldly psychic connection to each other, ripping through chunky breakdowns in near-perfect unison without any visual communication with each other. Some diversity was displayed in “(Won’t You Be My) Gravedancer”—best described as a doo-woppy, rhythmic ass-pounding. Fan-favorite “You Know Who” showcased the band’s unique take on 80’s speed-riff metal.

All in all, the Satyrs effectively communicated their stated intentions of exploring the metaphysical realm connecting the lawlessness of biker horror films (such as the band’s titling inspiration Satan’s Sadists), the speed and aggression of 70’s and 80’s American punk rock icons Black Flag, and the psychedelic, doom-infused atmospheric metal produced by the band Electric Wizard (who, in 2014, accepted Burgess into their band after hearing SS’s demo tapes).

My only gripes: they played fast the whole time. Which, I know, is kind of the point. But had they slowed down in certain strategic spots, letting the audience marinate in some of the breakdowns and solos, going for a thicker, goopier vibe, they would do a better job of attracting the sludge and doom crowd we all know and love. They closed out their set with a jarring rendition of “Creepy Teens”, a fitting segue into the cascading hellfire to be produced by Windhand.

Ghostly organ music and the sound of creaking wood set the stage for the spooky shit to come as the three horsemen and one horsewoman who compose Windhand emerged from the mist, carefully inspecting their instruments as if polishing swords in preparation for battle. I thought immediately of the infamous stand at Helm’s Deep. After opening with an absolutely unrelenting delivery of “Fake Pariah”, the band fixed some issues with the mix, giving the audience ample time to brace themselves for what was to come.

The short breaks in between songs, usually filled with small talk, stalling, and jovial banter about the musicians’ careers, politics, and the like instead left the audience treading water in goopy sound soup–probably with some sort of melted cheese on top. It was dense. It was muddy. Anticipation built, and the tension mounted, and just when you thought it would never end, the silence that was actually not a silence at all was snapped, like a diver leaping from the platform, and with perfect form and without producing a splash, Windhand laid into yet another face melter, spewing sparks and lava as they blew through “First to Die” followed by “Forest Clouds”.

They selected randomly throughout their entire discography, which was came as a pleasant surprise seeing as how they released Eternal Return, their fourth full-length studio album, just a month and some change before the show. Mixed in were expertly cascading, feedback-heavy, distorted guitar solos that made prominent use of a wah pedal and felt like avalanches piling onto the crowd. I noticed that lead guitarist Garrett Morris sported a Satan’s Satyrs shirt. G Move. Windhand slid effortlessly into a ¼ speed actuation of “Grey Garden” that then shed its cocoon as if a mummy suddenly come back to life, ripping through centuries old layers of resin-coated linen to reveal a shrieking and angelic guitar solo, sequenced differently than in the studio-version of the song.

Lead singer Dorthia Cottrell’s anguished, groveling voice was met with a performativity I didn’t expect. She wandered around stage in a ghostly trance, gazing out above our heads at something we could not see. Spooky indeed. The set was reminiscent of the atmosphere conveyed by an Edgar Allan Poe poem—simultaneously frantic but pessimistically resigned. Imagine a kerosene-soaked witch at the moment of ignition, but rather than scream or cackle as you might expect, she just sort of sighs.

Often overlooked, drummer Ryan Wolfe consistently laid down light, splashy cymbal work overtop of heavy, even bone-shattering tom and bass rolls, providing a delightfully complex undercurrent to the set—subtext, if you will. This in combination with Morris’s stylistic doom shredding conjured thoughts of ancient mammoths struggling against an eminent wave of hot tar, or maybe a vicious overtaking of an ankylosaurus by a small but battle-hardened pack of deinonychuses.

Windhand has been one of my favorite doom bands as of late, and for good reasons—all of which were reflected in their live show. They are one of the best groups around when it comes to the metered, spaced out riffs that deal mostly in mid-tones but somehow feel sludgier than anything else I’ve ever heard. Their songs all sound the exact same, yet almost completely unrecognizable. Like the same piece of meat cooked in entirely different ways. They can be technical, they can sweep pick, and they can be brutal sounding, like a dark churning ocean as it meets with a jagged, moonlit cliff side, or maggots chewing through a rotting appendage. They’re great to listen to while you read, sketch, ride your bike, dismember a corpse, or fold your laundry, and they’re absolute must-see’s if they’re coming to your town. They made one thing abundantly clear: Don’t sleep on Windhand.

Paul Cherry at the Apple Store

By Susanna Kemp

Photos by Christian Wade

Nov 9, 2018

On Friday night, Chicago native Paul Cherry played at a rather unconventional venue — Apple. The Michigan Avenue store, which opened a little over a year ago, hosts artists in a large, open space in front of the tables showcasing its products. People leaned against tables and sat on wooden blocks placed in a semicircle around Cherry and his band.

Cherry opened with “Hello Again,” the first song on his full-length album “Flavour,” which he released at the end of March. The jazzy song was a fitting greeting, as this was Cherry’s first show back in Chicago after a six-week tour.

“It’s pretty fun playing here at the Apple store,” Cherry said after a few songs. “I thought it was gonna be awkward because of the lighting.” With its bright lights, the store, which has two-story-tall glass walls that expose it to the street, seemed like a small haven from the cold and dark.During the performance, a screen behind Cherry and his bandmates projected clips of running water, swimming fish, and people walking across the beach. Cherry broke up his performance by joking between songs, which I thought was amusing, although his audience was largely unresponsive. “Apple store, you still with us?” Cherry asked about halfway through his performance, throwing up his hands. “It’s Friday night, come on! We could be at a bar. We’re at the Genius Bar.”

Cherry’s voice was smooth and clear, just as it is on his album, but what was most impressive about the performance was the use of instruments — both his own guitar technique and the playing of his bandmates. His newer music is an interesting mix of old and new, jazz and pop. Cherry used a loop machine at points, and in addition to more conventional instruments, one of his bandmates played a wind chime and maracas.The band ventured into improvisation during “The Comeback,” when Cherry stepped back to let two of his bandmates take a drum break. One of the drummers played bongos, which fit in surprisingly well with the synths in many of the other songs.

During “Minute,” a fun instrumental song in the middle of “Flavour,” Cherry played slide guitar while the screen behind him showed a snail moving along, followed by a plane ascending in slow motion. The song was the most exaggerated example of Cherry’s dream-like music. It felt like a brief stop in time.

 

 

 

 

Wild Nothing at Thalia Hall

By Susanna Kemp

Photos by Christian Wade

Nov 9, 2018

Nostalgia swept through Thalia Hall on Friday night when pop rock band Wild Nothing took the stage. “Throwback! Throwback!” one man shouted when the band began to play “Golden Haze,” from their 2010 EP. Wild Nothing played only a selection of songs from their newest album, “Indigo,” sticking to songs their audience was more familiar with.

The show opened with a set by Men I Trust, a Montreal-based indie pop band. The band’s vocalist, Emma, sang in a raspy whisper, a stark difference from the pleasing, whispery voice on the band’s recorded music. Bassist Jessy carried the performance. He shined on “Lauren,” the band’s 2016 single that has a catchy, twangy bass line.

After waiting a long time between sets, the crowd cheered when singer and guitarist Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing walked on stage. Although Tatum kept the higher part of his range mostly under wraps, he displayed his impressive range in the band’s opener, “Nocturne,” a question-and-answer song. “You wanna know me?” Tatum sang in his falsetto before dropping a couple octaves with the line “I know where to find you.”

The show picked up with “Partners in Motion” when keyboardist Matthew Kallman took his hands off the keys and started playing the saxophone. Kallman is tall and skinny and wore a simple white tank top that made him easy to miss when he was playing keyboard.

“Partners in Motion” was just a tease of Kallman’s abilities, which aren’t displayed on Wild Nothing’s recordings — Tatum does them solo. During “Whenever I,” Kallman’s saxophone playing was so subtle that at first, I thought the saxophone was a woman’s voice. But throughout the song, he gained momentum, climaxing with a strong solo. The crowd went wild for Kallman and cheered when he picked up his saxophone again during “Paradise” and “A Dancing Shell.”

Toward the end of their performance, the band played “Summer Holiday,” a song from Wild Nothing’s first album, “Gemini,” which Tatum introduced by telling the crowd that the band had friends from their days at Virginia Tech in the audience that night. “They’ve been hearing this song before any of it mattered at all,” Tatum said.

Gregory Alan Isakov at the Vic

By Zoe Huettl

Photos by Layne Gerbig

Nov 7, 2018

Indie-folk staple Gregory Alan Isakov played a lovely, organic show at the Vic on Wednesday. The singer-songwriter is touring in support of Evening Machines, his seventh album, released this past October. Another singer-songwriter opened the night, Haley Heynderickx, a solo act. Her onstage energy was funny and light, even while her songs dug deeper. She writes a good song, with unique, colorful images and intriguing subject matter. “The Bug Collector” is a simple story about finding bugs in an apartment with really interesting images, most notably where she describes a praying mantis as a “priest/ From your past life out to getcha.”  “No Face,” another creative song that could stand alone as a poem, showed the strength of her form. A slightly more catchy “Oom Sha La La” was the best, however, with its surface silliness deeply contrasting its more emotional themes. Her set was a great introduction to her as an artist, and she’s definitely one to watch as her resources and exposure increase.

Without too much of a wait after  Heynderickx, Isakov and his band took the stage. While Isakov releases under his own name, his band is made up of an eclectic mix of musicians: Jeb Bowes on violin, Phillip Parker on keyboard and cello, Steve Varney on banjo and guitar, Max Barcelo on drums, and John Paul Grigsby on bass (upright and electric), with Isakov himself on lead vocal, rhythm guitar and, briefly, harmonica. The band itself is capable of a diverse range of sound, as many of the musicians pull double duty on different instruments.

Throughout the show they were all able to switch back and forth individually, allowing their sound to cover a spectrum genres, from old-school folk music to modern rock. The sheer mutability was awesome; the nuanced level at which the band was able to alter their sound was impressive and engaging. The constants, and arguably what makes the band so unique, were Isakov’s vocal and Bowes’ violin. Bowes is a well-rounded player, and he filled the gap that would traditionally be plugged with catchy guitar hooks. He changed the whole texture of the music from song to song and made for a classically stunning finish to their well-rounded sound. Isakov’s voice mirrored the smoothness of the strings, and his often-poetic lyrics added another layer of meaning.

 

The Vic is a beautiful theatre and the stage looked homey with a red rug, scattered globes (which turned out to be lights) and a heavy layer of smoke. The smoke was a great stylistic choice; it caught the vibrant lights used throughout the show for a watercolor-like effect. They opened up with “She Always Takes It Back,” a solid song that highlighted Varney’s banjo skills and set the emotional tone for the night. Isakov’s songs are not exclusively sad, but they evoke a feeling that has a somber color. Even when they picked up the pace and went for a more rock vibe like on “The Empty Northern Hemisphere,” “Chemicals,” and “Berth,” Isakov’s vocals maintained their wistfulness.

Isakov’s onstage presence was calm and authentic, and he took a few moments between songs to tell stories about the writing of some of the songs. Before “Virginia May,” Isakov’s most country-influenced song (old school country music, back when “country” wasn’t a bad word), he described performing the song twelve years ago when he first started touring. He walked away from finishing a horticulture degree, joking “fuck college,” which got a huge laugh from the crowd. These little asides before songs focused on Isakov’s intimacy with his material and made for a wonderfully personal concert experience. He mentioned how it was “the most I’ve ever talked” because he usually “tells strange stories,” but each of his conversational moments opened up the songwriting process for his fans. He described writing “Dark Dark Dark” by taking lists of words from “trashy romance” and sci-fi novels and using them like “magnetic poetry” to write the song, which is one of Isakov’s best in terms of lyrics. He also described the inspiration for “Master and a Hound”–a snowglobe from the San Francisco airport he received as a gift.

He finished the show in an encore where he and the band all shared a circular, vintage style microphone. The whole group surrounding the mic, taking turns singing or soloing into it. This moment made for a sweet image of their group dynamic and was a nod to old-school arrangements where bands themselves had much more interaction. The night was full of intimate, bright moments like this where the audience watched and shared the creative joy of Isakov and his bandmates.

 

(Sandy) Alex G at Thalia Hall

By Beck Dengler

Photos by Christian Wade

Nov 4, 2018

 

Clenching his teeth together like a fighter dog with its jaw wired shut, (Sandy) Alex G began by singing in a monotone: “My favorite animal is the whale. I like his big fat tail. I like his big fat tail,” from his aptly-named track “Whale.” The night of music that followed was just as peculiar.

Thalia Hall, a music venue tucked away between multiple upper scale bars in Chicago, provided a gorgeous backdrop for the night’s artists. Beach Bunny, a Chicago act which describes itself as “emo lady power pop” opened the night. The band’s lead vocalist, Lili Trifilio, oozed stage presence.

She reminded the audience multiple times that she was nervous, which only added to her charm, especially considering it wasn’t noticeable in the slightest. Before singing “Prom Queen” off the 2018 album of the same name, she said of the song, “It’s about beauty standards and how they’re fucking stupid.” Although Beach Bunny’s set didn’t stand out as being musically unique, Beach Bunny filled each song with energy and passion.  

Nandi Plunkett, the artist known as Half Waif, followed this with a hypnotic performance. Assisted by blues, purples, reds and golds of light contorting around her, the stage never looked the same one second as it did the next. Half Waif’s music was equally as captivating. Her intricate layering of distorted sounds and her own vocals demanded her music be felt, not just heard. Unfortunately Half Waif’s spectacular haunting vocal delivery and self-reflective lyrics were often hidden beneath the over-mixed bass. But this served a purpose, making synth-pop bangers of many methodical tracks from her 2018 album Lavender.

The audience was antsy at this point. Two openers and two fairly long transitions between sets had built up anticipation in the room. When Alex G finally entered the stage along with a drummer, bassist and fellow guitarist, the crowd’s excitement was palpable.

This excitement gave way to a rather underwhelming performance. There were a couple of noticeable issues across his set. For one, Alex G’s use of abrasive, high-pitched guitar riffs became annoyingly repetitive. Even worse, these sounds were sometimes so abrasive that their screeching nature distracted from the actual music beneath. Another issue was that when transitioning to higher notes from lower ones, Alex G’s voice often became so quiet that it sounded as though he had stopped singing entirely.

From a visual perspective, Alex G’s set was blander than the acts that had preceded him. The lights changed color but only between songs, and the whole band felt stagnant for his performance of around an hour. The only noticeable movement onstage was Alex G, on multiple occasions, turning away from the audience to face his drummer for no apparent reason. It was actually rather disconcerting. It felt as though he was leaning away from audience interaction.

All of this isn’t to say Alex G’s set was entirely flawed. In fact, when Alex G leaned into softer, more nostalgic sounds, his songs were far more enjoyable. One particular highlight was the track “Bobby” from his 2017 album Rocket. For the song, Alex G invited Half Waif back onstage, who is featured on the track. Their two voices singing alongside one another was incredibly catchy. Even one harsher musical moment, which involved Alex G standing over his keyboard doing his rendition of a metal track, was an admirable experiment despite its strangeness.

Watching Alex G was conflicting. On one hand, his visuals were boring, his music was mediocre and his singing ability was nonexistent. On the other hand, the concert was somehow still really fun. For this I applaud (Sandy) Alex G, even though he ended his own show as the third-best performance of the night.

Of Montreal at Thalia Hall

By Layton Guyton

Photos by Nat Scholl

Oct 30, 2018

 

At this point, for plenty of bands of this era, artistic apathy would have set in. Live sets might rely entirely on the nostalgia of past releases or the novelty of a reunion tour. However, Of Montreal’s frontman Kevin Barnes still creates and performs like it’s the first time he’s had a significant crowd to watch him. This band has been incredibly prolific since their beginnings, releasing a staggering 23 albums in the past 20 years.

Of Montreal has existed in various forms since the late 90s, but don’t seem to have lost any creative steam. The psychedelic pop band hails from Athens, Georgia, and is part of the Elephant 6 Collective, a group of prolific and well-known recording artists and bands who all come from Athens. Other notable bands in this collective include Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, and Olivia Tremor Control.

Stepping into Thalia Hall, I had very few expectations for what I was about to experience. I thought there might be some interesting psych visuals, given their colorful sound, but nothing too out of the ordinary. I didn’t start to question what I might actually be getting into until I wandered around the crowd. There were a bunch of women wearing powdered wigs and Victorian-era dresses, several dudes in unicorn onesies, and wigs everywhere. The costumed and extravagant performances that followed for the next several hours made it clear my ideas of normality were what really were out of place.

Opening the night was Locate S,1, whose recent album Healing Component was produced by Barnes. Sunny, reverb-y guitars and frontwoman Christina Schneider’s soothing falsetto made for pleasant pop songs. Despite having simple instrumentation and melodic lines, the songs were really complex, changing keys just about every line. It was pop music for the most cerebral of music nerds, but still catchy.

Between sets, the anticipation in the air felt tangible. The crowd swelled as more and more costumed concertgoers found their way into Thalia Hall. Finally breaking the tension, Of Montreal entered and started playing a single droning synth note. A masked man with a top hat pranced onstage to huge applause, and welcomed the crowd with a monologue about space travel, finally inviting our “Space Captain” Kevin Barnes to the stage.

Barnes came out in full drag, escorted by three robotic backup dancers, and launched straight into “Soft Music/Juno Portraits of the Jovian Sky.” The rest of their set only spiraled further into theatrics from there. Every four or five songs, Barnes and his posse would disappear backstage and reemerge in new gaudy threads.

For crowd favorite “it’s different for girls,” there were leather catsuits and a devil with a whip, like we had been transported to some hypnotic bondage dimension of hell. Nothing was underprepared. There were lavish props, dance routines, and kaleidoscopic visuals for every occasion. The whole show felt like one long, euphoric encore.

The moral here is: if you get a chance to go see Of Montreal, even if you know very little of their music, don’t pass it up.