I absolutely love Rainbow Kitten Surprise.
Their music has been a significant component of every Spotify playlist I’ve made, possibly ever, my friends and I have spent many a car ride singing “Fever Pitch,” I admire their unique sound and am uncontainably proud of their success. “Cocaine Jesus” came across my shuffle as I was writing this.
Which is why I’m having trouble writing this review, because their performance at the Riv lacked something for me. It felt a little…off.
Granted, there were technical issues with one of the microphones before the show could even get started, forcing them to take the stage 30 minutes late. This surely contributed to a sense of antsiness among the crowd, yet when they did appear, they did so with full-energy and a whole-hearted explanation of their tardiness, thanking the crowd for sticking around.
The first two songs, “Matchbox” and “Freefall” were great, yet by the end of the first ten minutes I started to feel weird about what I was seeing. Their performance seemed to lack something genuine. Frontman Sem Melo and guitarist Darrick “Bozzy” Keller (the two founding members) frequently broke into what I assume were supposed to be heartfelt, tender moments between the two, but they seemed so choreographed I couldn’t buy it. Their performance was somehow child-like, with unnecessarily dramatic moments: like they were trying to synthesize emotions that they weren’t really feeling. Maybe it was a lack of comfort being in front of an audience, but I felt as though I wasn’t really seeing the people that make up RKS, I was watching characters try to act like what they thought the audience expected from them. And unfortunately, this unnatural performance made the set seem repetitive, almost like watching bad theatre. I hate to say it, but I found myself checking the set list to see how many songs we had left.
There is good news though! Their music was still incredible, with chilling harmonies from Keller and bassist Charlie Holt, an absolutely lovely acoustic “First Class,” mesmerizing lightwork, and a sincere “thank you” from Melo to the entire production crew, all the way down to the people working the merch table. The encore was super fun, with “Fever Pitch” and an rejuvenating “Run” to finish in which guitarist Ethan Goodpaster used a beer bottle as a slide while hovering over the audience at barrier.
In the end, I still enjoy Rainbow Kitten Surprise. I’m not going to stop keeping their discography on a lifelong repeat. And I look forward to seeing them continue to grow as musicians and become more comfortable in their live performances, enough to let their true, authentic selves show.
Cory Wong doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Through dynamic visuals, goofy stage antics, and explosive funk music, the producer and guitarist is effortlessly captivating, despite the vast majority of his music being void of words.
He ran on stage at Lincoln Hall like a starting quarterback coming out of the locker room before erupting into the NFL Sports Intro with drummer Petar Janjic, bassist Kevin McIntire, keyboardist Kevin Gastonguay, and legendary brass ensemble the Hornheads.
The band, all sporting pizza-themed black jumpsuits, immediately grabbed the audience’s attention and then moved into some live favorites and cuts from Wong’s two studio records.
Wong weaves comedy bits and pre-recorded skits throughout his setlist, telling jokes that are so bad they’re funny and shamelessly plugging his merchandise in between songs. At the beginning of the show, he insisted the crowd let “all that tough guy stuff right out the back” and promoted audience unity (even between Android and iPhone users).
The way the band seamlessly slid from one song to the next made the show feel less like a concert and more like a fluid entertainment experience, complete with special guests like Antwaun Stanley contributing vocals on “Pleasin’” via internet broadcast. Stanley, despite not being physically present, dominated the room with smooth R&B vocal runs.
“Welcome 2 Minneapolis” was a highlight of the show, complete with an entire bit about peanut butter being brought into an American venue in 2019. “I don’t know how they do it in New Zealand…” Wong joked as Kiwi opener Emily Browning dangled a jar of Skippy over the crowd from the balcony.
Wong, a self-proclaimed “Millennial Ambassador to Smooth Jazz” whipped out the silky, flute-driven “Cameron” and paid homage to smooth jazz veteran Dave Koz, with whom Wong has collaborated. Wong also taught the crowd how to count in a 25/8, a time signature common in Janjic’s native Serbia but almost never heard in American music.
Wong and Co. played with such cohesion and feel that even when it seemed like Wong was drifting off-script, everything soon snapped into place, making it apparent that the show was tightly rehearsed.
The solo-filled “Encore E Jam” showcased each member’s incredible musicality while songs like “Jax” relied more on fast repetition and groove. The show reached almost two hours but never once lulled.
Wong not only bends genres but also entertainment formats, delivering a multimedia show filled with humor, education and of course hard-hitting, hip-shaking funk tunes. Long-term fans and unfamiliar newcomers alike are guaranteed to enjoy being a part of Wong’s endlessly fun experience.
As the Minneapolis-born producer and Vulfpeck guitarist closes his North American winter tour and prepares to make his way to Europe, bringing gags and groove along the way, WNUR had the chance to speak to Wong about touring, technology and the future of funk.
As a guitarist who doesn’t sing at his shows, how do you manage to keep the show so entertaining and the crowd so engaged?
Well it is definitely the number one riddle that I am trying to solve as an instrumental band leader. I have a lot of shticks that I create and bits that I use to divert the attention in different ways. It’s not just like, “Hey look at me shredding on the guitar for 90 minutes,” because that gets old to me. I like to showcase the other guys in the band but also bring in a nice element of humor and lightheartedness to the thing. The way that I set up the show in the beginning is just having some fun, zany, different things happening, and then also amongst hopefully what people think is some dope music. Bringing a multimedia element to it is fun and helps a lot with having guests up on the projector or video content that people can watch while the sounds are happening. And bringing special guests up as well.
You had Antwaun Stanley up on the screen during the show, and you’ve also said in previous interviews that a lot of your musical ideas exist on your phone in the form of voice memos. What are some of the pros and cons of the prevalence of technology in the musical process nowadays? Has technology ever failed you in a major way?
Technology only ever fails when it fails me. And what I mean by that is like, “Why is my computer all of a sudden frozen? It’s worked every show this entire year.” We did a show in Boston and live-streamed it. What happened? The computer froze the second we got on stage. And I’m the only one who knows how to fix it, so I had to give the drummer a solo for three minutes while I reboot my computer and got all the programs back up and running. And it was fine, but that’s the only time technology has failed me. There are a lot of pros and cons. I never rely solely on technology, so it doesn’t fail me very often. I use only its pros, which are things like, “Wow, at any time, I can pull this device out of my pocket and record the idea that I have in my head and be certain that I don’t forget it later.” If somebody in Japan is like, “Hey man, how do you play that guitar part on ‘Starks and Ewing’?” or whatever song, I can just say, “Oh, well here’s a quick video of me doing it. That’s how.” And I can just send it over. It’s incredible that technology is able to grant us those opportunities. Also, I can tune my guitar by putting my phone in front of it, and it’ll tell me whether I’m in tune or not. That’s pretty cool. I’ll sometimes do songwriting or production sessions with people on the other side of the world through Skype or FaceTime. That’s pretty incredible. The other plus side is the relationships and the community that it builds. I met a bunch of people in the guitar community through Instagram or Facebook. It helped me to meet my friend Ariel Posen. I just put out a video of us hanging in a studio together and playing. I met Emily Browning through the internet, and then we met in person at a house party and stayed in touch through the internet. When it came time for me to pick an opener for my tour, I just thought, “Oh! Emily would be great!” And sure enough, I could send her a message all the way to New Zealand, and she could just say, “Yeah, I’m in,” and fly over and do it.
During the show, you briefly touched on the millennial computer generation of music-makers. Where do you fall on that line of traditionalists who don’t think a computer should serve any purpose in music production and new-era DJs who don’t use any real instruments, producing solely from their laptops?
I don’t mind the computer era of music that much. I think it’s important that you can fall back on something. Can you show me something that shows that you have musical ability? Great. I think the best use of it is for when it helps you express your art. For me, when I’m making demos, I’ll put a loop together, but I’ll build the loop and I’ll program it myself to the groove that I want and make it feel how I want, and I’ll play instruments on top of it. So I don’t mind using computer instruments—I do on all my records, and I think it’s great! There’s ways to use it artistically, but then there’s also people who don’t get how to do music or write music or play any instrument, and that’s kinda lame.
Gonna switch gears a little bit. Who came up with the peanut butter bit?
[Laughs] That was me, I just dragged Emily along with me. I just said, “We should have somebody in the crowd with peanut butter,” and she was the only one of our crew who wasn’t on stage, so naturally she drew the short straw. She’s down, so that was nice. She thought it was genuinely funny, so that helped.
What’s your favorite song to play live and why?
Wow, that’s a hard one. On this tour, I love playing my tune “’91 Maxima” the most because I got to fire off my inflatable air men. A lot of guitar players get excited about guitar pedals they press. The most exciting pedal for me to press all night is the one that turns Larry and Jerry on. And yes, that’s their names.
The stage looked like a car dealership.
Do you notice significant differences in terms of stage dynamics or even crowd dynamics when playing solo, with Vulfpeck, Fearless Flyers or any other projects that you’ve been involved with?
Fortunately, they’re all pretty similar crowds. The main difference is how big is the crowd. The second difference is whether Antwaun Stanley is on stage. [Laughs] For whatever reason, when he’s on stage, the place is just hype. And he is such an insane, hype guy. It’s incredible. So with Vulfpeck, obviously the scale to which the crowds are is so much larger than what I’m doing with my solo thing, but that’s fine. And my solo thing will continue to grow, and that’s great. But the crowds are very similar.
How was working with Nate Smith?
That was a dream to play with him and to continue to play with him because I think he’s the best drummer in the world right now. He has all the chops that you could want and all the groove that you could want, and he knows how to artfully and musically use those skills. A lot of guys have a ton of chops, but not a ton of groove. Or they have a ton of groove, but not a lot of chops. It’s fun to play with a guy like that who’s just got all of it but knows when to harness it and when to let it loose.
As an aspiring guitarist growing up in Minneapolis who looked up to Prince, what was it like getting to work with Michael Bland, Sonny Thompson and the Hornheads?
Those guys I’ve worked with for years because I cut my teeth and grew up playing in Minneapolis, so from early on, I was playing with those guys and learning from them. Now having them view me as one of their peers is pretty fun and exciting. But my first times playing with Michael and Sonny, I got pulverized and tenderized through his school. I went to college, but I feel like my formal training was from Michael Bland and Sonny Thompson. That’s where I really honed in the musicality stuff.
So do you think a certain level of intensity is necessary when playing with new people? Or is there a balance, and where do you fall on that spectrum?
I think there’s a balance. It depends on what the future holds, what the relationship could potentially be with that person. But also, how much does that person care? If everybody is playing for keeps, then yeah, there’s a certain level of intensity, and that’s great. I’m a high-energy, high-intensity person in general, so I think I will draw that out of people who can bring it. But I think also I can use it to bring the energy of something up if it’s lagging. I like having a good amount of intensity, but an appropriate amount.
Tell me about “the hang.” Can somebody achieve it, or are you born with it?
Some people are born with it. Your natural schmoozers in life are born with “the hang,” you know? “The hang” is basically just all the off-stage. Some guys have all the on-stage musical stuff together but their “hang” is terrible. So what happens is they get hired for one tour and they don’t get asked back. Even though they’re the best one for the job, if their “hang” sucks, they’re out. I’ve seen that happen dozens of times. “The hang” is all about your interpersonal stuff off-stage and your professionalism. It’s more just how you are as a person. I had a keyboard player sub with me once, and literally 10 minutes after we got off stage at a festival, he was like, “Yo, I need you to pay me right now.” Like wait what?! We just got off stage, give me a freakin’ second. The guy was great, but I’m just not gonna hire him again. Bad “hang.” Do this guy’s feet stink and every time we get in the van, he takes his shoes off? You’re losing some “hang” points there.
You cite Pat Metheny and John Scofield as major influences. As jazz seems to be having some sort of rebirth, especially in the context of hip-hop music, do you see funk ever coming back in a major way or will it remain this niche genre that artists like yourself continue to spearhead?
Groove is groove. Groove-based music will always be around. How people decide to express that sometimes is more funk, sometimes R&B. You can throw a funk guitar part on a hip-hop song and all of a sudden it just is funky. You’ve got guys like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake and Emily King playing funk. There’s all kinds of people doing it on different scales. Even like Niall Horan from One Direction has some kinda funk tunes on his solo record. I think it’s fun to see it’s coming back more in the pop culture.
You’ve cited Rivers Cuomo as an influence for how you organize your unfinished projects. So, are you team Blue Album or team Pinkerton?
I’m team Blue Album all the way, 100 percent. I like Pinkerton, but Blue Album is it for me. That might be my favorite album of all time. Definitely in my top three.
What’s your guilty pleasure music? Or is all music guilt-free?
I think all music is guilt-free as long as the message of it is fine. I’m fine listening to “basic music” and feeling great about it. I love Katy Perry’s PRISM record. I think it’s a brilliant freakin’ pop record. Anybody who has something negative to say about me because I like a Katy Perry record—screw them. I don’t care, it’s good pop music. And I can get down with a Cecil Taylor avant-garde solo piano jazz record. A lot of my friends who are into pop music would be like, “How can you stand listening to that?” Fine. Whatever.
Speaking of pop, you’ve referred to Continuum as one of your favorite pop records. Have you ever gotten the chance to meet or play with John Mayer?
I have not yet. We have a bunch of mutual friends. We have a bunch of times that we intended to connect, but it has not worked out yet. Hopefully that will happen very soon [laughs].
How do you name an instrumental song?
That is the hardest part about music for me. It comes from all over the place, but it is the hardest thing for me to do. It will take me less time to write, record, produce and mix an instrumental song than it will for me to name it. Although I’ve got a buddy who’s got the gift of naming things. He’s got a certain type of synesthesia where he’ll hear things and visualize them. It helps him name things. I’ve thought about putting him on retainer and having him just name things in my life.
Your song “Upstream” is available as downloadable content for Rock Band II. Did you ever play Rock Band or Guitar Hero?
I did, and I was never as good at it as the real guitar.
Interesting. Did you play guitar before playing the games?
Yeah, because I started playing guitar in sixth grade, and I think the games came out when I was in high school. So I figured, if I wanna play “Symphony of Destruction,” I’m gonna figure out how to play it on the real guitar.
When did you figure out you were a Strat guy? Did you start off on one and never stray or was it a discovery process?
Day one. I was a Strat guy from day one. My dad convinced me. He was like, “So, you wanna play the guitar? Let’s look at all the guitar gods. Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn. What do they all play? Stratocaster.”
If you could work with any artist dead or alive, who would it be?
You’re pretty popular in Peru. Are there any noticeable differences between performing in South America versus playing in the States?
I have not been there for a while, but the audiences in South America are generally more attentive audiences to musical nuance. The way that some other cultures respond to musical nuance is very different than in the United States. In the United States, I know what gets the crowd to go wild: the loud, the fast, the high, the super exciting. In Europe and in South America, that stuff gets them excited, but also, they’ll respond the same way to a very musically nuanced thing.
What’s the most useful touring tip that you’ve learned while on the road?
You never need as many clothes as you think you do. You’ll find a way to do laundry. Also, you gotta eat clean. It’ll help you feel better and healthier. Life will be easier for you if your body is working properly.
Where do you think you’d be without music?
I would probably be doing something in architecture. We had a really good drafting program at my high school, and by 10th grade I basically finished the whole program. So I got a job with an architect as a drafter drawing all the blueprints and everything. I did all the residential projects.
Do you have any upcoming plans besides touring?
Fearless Flyers just finished recording a new record. Super stoked about that. It’s gonna be insane. The album turned out great. I am almost halfway done with a new Cory Wong record. I’m going to Europe next week to do some touring. Fortunately, the entire tour is sold out, so that’s gonna be fun. Vulfpeck is doing a Red Rocks show that’s sold out. Madison Square Garden with Vulfpeck and the Fearless Flyers, which is gonna be insane. I’m excited to see what this year brings.
Describing Ólafur Arnalds as “slightly Nordic” during his performance at Thalia Hall earlier this month would be an understatement. This characterization stems less so from his favoring a certain Viking aesthetic or a strong preference for death metal (although he did start out as a hardcore drummer and composed music for Heaven Shall Burn), but rather because of his incredibly humble and soft-spoken demeanor on stage. Every couple of songs he would pause for a moment to stand up from his piano and tell the crowd an anecdote or crack a joke or two. During one of these breaks, for example, he asked the audience to hum a tone in unison, which he then recorded “for possible later usage – if it’s good enough.”
Despite Arnalds doing all the talking and a good bit of the playing too, the 32-year-old is not alone on his world tour: while starting his first piece solo on the piano with the spotlight centered on him, after a few minutes additional spots reveal the string quartet and later on the percussionist that support him on his journey to sold-out concert halls throughout North America and Europe.
Arnalds’ music, a mix of ambient, neoclassical, and occasionally also electronica, is striking because of its fluidity – every song flows into the next as if they are part of one giant piece, only interrupted by the musicians’ occasional pauses and Arnalds’ conversation bits. While most of his compositions are rather short, he always finds something to add to them on stage, explaining how, despite only having played eleven distinct songs, the show filled a good hour and a half. The best example is “unfold” from his 2018 album re:member, which measures only four minutes in the original, but stretches itself into a kind of mini-pathétique of about twice the length on stage.
Without a doubt, there also is a good portion of experimentation in Arnalds’ music. Aside from frequently shifting between his grand piano and two synthesizers, he incorporates plenty of electronic beats into his compositions, and showcased his newest piece of musical pioneering: his so-called Stratus Pianos feature two upright pianos which are connected to Arnalds’ grand piano, and which produce a randomly generated note whenever he plays one himself to create new and unexpected harmonies. Aside from his creative endeavors, Arnalds’ also gives some of his touring band members a chance to shine, such as nestling a performance of his solo violin work “3326” between his other pieces.
One of the last songs of the set, “nyepi,” is a piece which warranted some additional introduction before being presented. It was written during one of Arnalds’ many trips to Indonesia, which he is captivated by and traveled to repeatedly due to a self-proclaimed “fascination for island life.” On the eponymous New Year’s holiday, which is particularly pronounced in Bali, all traffic is stopped, nobody is supposed to leave their houses, and no festive or noisy activities are allowed to take places, which is why it’s also called the “Day of Silence.” To put it in the words of Arnalds’ himself, it is “one day a year in which we give the Earth time to regenerate for the 364 days when we are treating it like shit.” It is out of this self-reflective root that the minimalist piano piece springs, seemingly providing the motto for the entire event through its theme of quiet introspection.
After frenetic cheers and a whole-audience standing ovation, Arnalds’ gives in to play a final encore piece: “Lag Fyrir Ömmu” literally translates to “Song for Grandmother,” and is just that – an ode to the woman who used her baking skills to rouse in her grandson the love for classical music in general and Chopin in particular that underlies his entire canon, so much even that he dedicated an entire collaboration album to covering the latter’s works. He plays the piece on one of the two upright pianos towards the far side of the stage, his back facing the audience. Every note is filled with so much passion and pathos that one is afraid each will be the last. After he is done, Arnalds’ leaves as he entered – in silence.
Mick Jenkins delivered a proselytizing sold-out performance Saturday night at Thalia Hall.
The show began with a performance by Chicago-based rapper, Stock Marley. Marley’s performance really blurred the lines between spoken word poetry and rap. At many points, he had no supporting beat or mix backing up his vocals. He walked across the barricade, almost becoming part of the crowd yet maintaining an unshakably intense delivery. His performance was interspersed with anecdotes and messages about supporting and loving one another. Marley’s delivery was emotionally and technically pronounced, but the crowd appeared more receptive to his anecdotes than his actual music.
Kari Faux was the second opening act whose musical style and presence was a marked divergence from the previous set by Marley. Faux’s chill rap is overlaid on relaxed beats, and many of her songs feature a catchy chorus. By Faux’s fourth song, Color Theory, the crowd finally began to loosen up and enjoy Faux’s fun and personable performance. Together, Marley’s messages and Faux’s danceable songs set the stage well for Mick Jenkins.
It was ultimately Mick Jenkins, however, that delivered an unassuming, yet incredibly compelling performance. His newest album, Pieces of a Man, was released in October 2018 but Jenkins performed a variety of tracks across albums. Playing All that Jazz, a track from his first album and his most popular song, early in his set enabled him to eliminate any reservations the crowd may still have had. From that point on, the crowd was wholly hyped for the rest of the set.
“I needed to remove myself from things that could be classified as a waste of time,” said Mick Jenkins before performing Ghost, a track from his newest album. Many of Jenkins’ songs and messages reflect his notably intense concentration on self-improvement.
Throughout his set, Jenkins continuously referred to his fourth mixtape, The Waters, a highly acclaimed album that led to Jenkins’ rise within the rap community in 2014. In addition to playing hit songs from the album, including All That Jazz, Jenkins engaged with the audience yelling “drink more” as the crowd enthusiastically responded “water.” In Jenkins’ work, the symbol of water has become thematically important and is highlighted in phrases across albums. According to Jenkins in an interview with Oyster Magazine “So when I say drink more water, when I say I’ve been in these waters, when I reference water like that, it’s really synonymous with saying, ‘Learn more things, gain more knowledge and seek more truth.’”
Overall, Jenkins’ chill rap was interwoven with salient- and technically difficult- verses that enabled him to powerfully connect with everyone in the audience.
All That Jazz
Grace & Mercy
What Am I To Do
In the wake of the polar vortex of 2019, three bands emerge to take the stage at the Subterranean and thaw Wicker Park out with the sweet, sweet sound of indie rock. Vundabar has been on tour with Wisconsin-based Slow Pulp and Chicago-based Paul Cherry for just over a week, gracing Chicago after visits in various Northeast cities.
These musicians couldn’t have been more needed here in the Windy City: I was cold, sick, and wet (I got splashed by melted-snow slush while waiting for the bus), and needed to dance it out amongst some of what I assume were Chicago’s most hipster kids.
The Subterranean is small and intimate enough to make you feel like you’re watching some of your good friends do a show in someone’s basement, and Slow Pulp’s alt-rock meets dream pop sound matches perfectly. Their breathy vocals and chunky guitar riffs made for a sweet little set, made even better by each member’s dreamy smiles and relaxed energy.
Paul Cherry took the stage next. He’s marketed as a one-man show, but was accompanied by drums, keyboard, and an assorted percussion section including bongos, triangle, maracas, and chimes. Their reverb-heavy guitar and almost lofi-esque consistent beats made for a truly ethereal experience that I feel is best summed up by a quote from Paul Cherry himself, “That felt really fun and good to me.”
At last, Boston-born Vundabar appears, in all their cuffed pant and tucked-in shirt glory.
Opening with an extra rock-y version of “$$$,” they quickly shook the audience out of our shoegaze stupor. A pit almost immediately opened up among cries of “FUCK YEAH, ROCK.” Vundabar is just a three-piece group: guitar, bass, and drums; they use that to their advantage, creating the loud, fast alt-rock sound that we all know and love.
The group has been together since high school, and it’s apparent in their cohesive, laid-back performance. They kept the energy up throughout their set, featuring songs off of their most recent album, Smell Smoke (2017), as well as Gawk (2015), which came out when founding members Brandon Hagen and Drew McDonald were still in their teens. Vundabar’s stellar talent is made even more wonderful to witness by their casual nature; they frequently broke the fourth wall to converse with the audience and joke with each other. After one overzealous audience member let out some cheeky expletive, Hagen shot back “Yeah! Boo us! BOOOO!” a motif that carried throughout the concert, making the show feel like a gathering between friends.
The set burned fast and bright, leaving the crowd sweaty and bruised, but still cheering for an encore (which the band didn’t come back out for; Chicago’s cabin-fever fueled dance frenzy probably tired them out). Still, Vundabar’s set was perfectly effortless, incredibly fun, and possibly my favorite show I’ve covered for WNUR so far.
Last Friday night was smiles all around.
Cherub, a duo comprised of Jason and Jordan, took over Concord Music Hall for a show that was fun, carefree and very on-brand. The pair hasn’t put out an album since 2016’s Bleed Gold, Piss Excellence, their second LP, but has released a series of singles this year. Their funk-based electronic sound has roots in jazz and pop, earning them countless festival runs and collaborations with Big Gigantic, GRiZ and the like. Their shows are welcoming to anyone and everyone – although I wouldn’t exactly take my mom.
The night began with “XOXO,” a track about a “dirty bird” of an ex that’s my personal favorite from their 2013 EP MoM & DaD. Next was “All In,” a recent release. “Monogamy,” also from M&D, brought us back in time. Just as Jason promised from the set’s start, there was a balanced mix of “old shit and new shit.” Highlights included “Freaky Me, Freaky You,” “<3,” “Chocolate Strawberries,” and “Disco Shit,” from Year of the Caprese, their debut 2014 album. We also heard “So What” and “Dancin’ Shoes,” part of the softer, voice filter-heavy sound the duo’s been exploring this year. There was a small moment then when the energy level died – but just a bit – most likely due to the crowd’s unfamiliarity with the group’s new stuff, but Cherub bounced right back with “Do I (Where We Are).”
After some frustrating technical difficulties, the show closed out with the smash hit “Doses & Mimosas.” It’s a song known by festival wooks and frat bros alike and the audience knew every word. Crowd surfers and shoulder riders made their appearance for this track, among the pashminas, hidden dab pens and cocaine bumps that had been ever present. It was a fitting end to a great night, speaking to Cherub’s enduring relevance as musicians.
After 10 years of making music together, Cherub has maintained honesty and, even more importantly, integrity. While the extent of their witty lyricism is referring to cocaine as “disco shit,” in their case, that’s not a bad thing. What makes Cherub so special is their ability to give zero shits. They be how they be. For Jason and Jordan, this happens to be tattoo-covered funk musicians who sing about girls, drugs and getting way too fucked up. Their songs state life exactly as it is without the smoke, mirrors and metaphors of today’s trendy music that just tries so damn hard. Instead, their discography is plainly funky, racy, relatable and emotional. I was here for them 5 years ago at my first music festival, when I sang along about doses and mimosas before I’d tried either one. And I’m sure that another 5 from now I’ll be there once again, with a little more life under my belt and (hopefully) just the right amount of recklessness.
Opening act Banoffee prefaced one of her songs by saying, “This song is written for that special breed of cis man in the world. You know, the ones that walk around in like a future is equality t-shirt but refuse to do the fucking dishes? I know there aren’t any of those in the audience right now, but I’m sure everyone here can relate.” A loud cheer went up; in a majority female and largely LGBTQ audience, most of the crowd could easily understand her sentiment. Although Banoffee’s message was one the crowd loved, the same could not be said for her music. Her songs rang with so much vocal manipulation, I often could not understand more than one or two words. With lyrically repetitive choruses that were just one phrase over and over again and unintelligible verses, Banoffee’s set felt unbearably long.
After Banoffee, Bambi Banks took the stage. I searched on Spotify and Apple Music before the show, with no results; the reason for this soon became evident. Bambi Banks is not a singer, but a drag queen, and from the moment she strutted out in her platinum wig, sparkly blue dress, makeup, and cape, the crowd was entranced. The audience did not stop screaming for a single second out of the three songs she was onstage. The sheer energy Banks managed to produce was otherworldly.
Growing up in New York City, King Princess, born Mikaela Strauss, was on my radar early. I’ve had friends call me freaking out when, on nights out, they saw King Princess from afar, and have seen photos of her yearbook pictures from her New York City high school (not unlike my own). Because of this, she felt tangible to me; a girl only 2 years older than I am, coming from the same city as me, has built up a following that can only be described as worshipful. As Strauss took the stage to the poetic “Make My Bed,” a girl behind me screamed, “I love you Lesbian Jesus!”
With a smirk and a hit of a silver Juul, King Princess launched straight into an unnamed song from her upcoming record that repeated the hook “I can make grown men cry.” This would set the tone for the night, as she went on to sing only 4 more released songs, and 7 from her upcoming album. From what I heard Friday night, this record is sure to be another hit. The songs varied from slow and sad to catchy hooks complete with copious guitar riffs, and I could see myself listening to every single one of them depending on my mood.
One set highlight was an extended version of her first hit “1950,” which included a long guitar section and a rougher, more raw sounding chorus. After this, she made sure to take a hit off an audience member’s dab pen, while talking about her new “VERY Billie Jean King” haircut and asking audience members what their after-show plans were. “Pussy is God,” which Strauss co-wrote with her girlfriend Amandla Stenberg, was a crowd favorite as well.
She closed her set with “Talia,” coming back for an encore of two new songs and an extremely lengthy and impressive electric guitar section. Notably missing from her set was my personal favorite, the song “Holy,” but otherwise I have absolutely no complaints. King Princess exuded a stage presence many artists years older and more experienced cannot accomplish, and the amount of sheer talent emanating from the stage was remarkable. I cannot wait for the release of her new album and to see her again on upcoming tours.
I felt more invigorated than you might expect from an artist named Still Woozy when I left Schubas Tavern last Friday night. Before Sven Gamsky — the man behind Still Woozy — could spread his contagious energy, three smaller acts played. First up was Chicago native Jordanna, whose jazzy R&B is just as sweet-sounding as the title of her newest EP, “Sweet Tooth,” suggests. Ted Feighan, better known as Monster Rally, was next. His instrumental music, which he makes almost entirely from samples, is reminiscent of a laid-back beach day. Indie pop musician VICTOR! was last to perform before Still Woozy. The endearing 18-year-old Victor Cervantes looks his age but was clearly comfortable on stage. After his first song, he asked a couple giggling girls what they found so funny. “You’re cute!” one of them yelled back, which Cervantes laughed at before quickly removing his baseball cap to argue he looked cute only because he’d covered up his uncooperative hair that morning with a hat.
Cervantes was answered by indistinguishable screams when he asked the audience to tell him their favorite Still Woozy song. Still Woozy’s discography consists of just six singles, and going into the concert I tried to suppress the hope I had that Gamsky would play some new tunes; I didn’t want to be disappointed. There was no need though, because three songs into his performance, Gamsky began playing new, unreleased music. “Thank you guys for bearing with that last song,” Gamsky said after “Lava.” “It dropped before it dropped, you know?”
I was just starting to think that Gamsky’s new music sounded jazzier than his current songs when he announced he was about to change up the pace and began playing a call-and-response punk rock song. His songs all fall into the same category of dreamy yet funky electronic music, but if this concert gave us any insight into Gamsky, it’s that he can perform across a variety of genres. He followed up his rock song with a rendition of the influential country singer Hank Williams’ “Angel of Death” and later played “Still Beating” by indie musician Mac DeMarco. His fans were with him the whole way, singing along and yelling praise.
Gamsky had no trouble keeping his audience engaged — he climbed off the stage at one point to sing with his audience — but half the fun of Still Woozy’s performance was in watching Gamsky’s accompanying drummer, introduced as Skinny Pete, and bassist, Tommy. With his blue eye shadow, dangling earrings and eclectic self-made (according to Gamsky) patched pants, Tommy stood in contrast to Skinny Pete, who wore a plain yellow T-shirt and jeans. But anyone who expected the drummer’s presence to match his outfit was sorely mistaken. Tommy and Pete abandoned their instruments during multiple songs to dance together. Their moves ranged from tooting an imaginary train horn to full-body, worm-like spasms. Toward the end of the show, Tommy crowd surfed, which I was definitely not expecting given Schubas’ relatively small size.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Still Woozy given his small discography, but Gamsky defied my expectations. The songs he performed were every bit as good as his recorded versions, but it was still fun to see him step away from his usual repertoire with some covers, and Tommy and Skinny Pete (whom I hope Gamsky keeps around for future tours) added humor to the show that no recording could capture.
“Anything you love will eventually become a Speedway,” Kerry Alexander, the lead singer of Bad Bad Hats, concluded before strumming the beginning of “Super America,” an ode to a Minnesota gas station chain. With stories of eating sandwich wrappers in Paris, phones left on the tops of mountains, and five-course soup meals, Kerry Alexander caught the attention of every member in the crowd at Schubas late Wednesday night. Her band, Bad Bad Hats, was playing in the Tomorrow Never Knows fest (TNK fest) that Lincoln Hall and Schubas have been putting on since 2005.
In their boot-cut jeans and casual flannel shirts, Bad Bad Hats looked like Gap personified. They didn’t walk out with beaming smiles, but instead held deadpan expressions until they started playing. Their humble appearance gave the impression that they cared, but not too much, and that they were there to have fun which amplified their unexpectedly comedy-filled performance.
They chose to open with “Talk With Your Hands,” a song from their most recent release Lightning Rounds. Released in August of 2018, it’s their second full-length album and explores unrequited love, intense vulnerability, and the melancholy that life seems to develop with age.
Bad Bad Hats started in 2012, at Macalester University in St. Paul, Minnesota, when Kerry Alexander, the lead vocalist, and Chris Hoge, lead instrumentalist of the group, found each others’ demos on MySpace. The band, now with Connor Davison on drums, makes acoustic heavy indie pop tunes with occasional riffs that pay homage to garage rock. What makes Bad Bad Hats stand out over the other rising indie pop bands is their lyrics. Alexander’s lyrics are quippy and cutting, but they are cleverly disguised by the upbeat “cuteness” of the pop music she produces.
During the show, one of the many transitions Alexander used between songs was a story about Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High).” Alexander, in her poignant soprano voice, explained that she gets a lot of her lyrical ideas from listening to one of Minneapolis’ pop radio stations. She asked if anyone in the audience had heard of the song “Habits” and then proceeded to sing it. After that brief interlude, she explained that it gave her the idea to write a song about how she had never been high. This led the band into playing “Nothing Gets Me High,” one of their catchier songs about how love loses its allure when you’re older. It was stories like these, both funny and engaging, that made Bad Bad Hats’ performance so enjoyable. Watching the band goof off with one another, leaning on each other’s backs during guitar solos or holding up a muscle flex at the end of a song, was refreshing because it made it seem like they were genuinely enjoying themselves.
After playing through their entire new release, with some old favorites thrown in, Bad Bad Hats ended the night with a cover of Josie and the Pussycats’ “Pretend to Be Nice.” The crowd, who had been getting rowdier and rowdier as the night progressed, yelled and jumped around, echoing the chorus back to the band. It was the perfect way for Bad Bad Hats to close out their fun and lighthearted set.
Kicking off the last leg of her North American tour, Lindsey Jordan, known to fans as Snail Mail, sold out Metro last Thursday evening. The release of her first album Lush last summer was met with a huge relief after waiting two years after her EP Habit. As much as it killed me to wait that long to hear more of her sultry strains, I don’t blame her for the hiatus. After all, she was busy graduating from high school.
Although young, Snail Mail’s play with the audience was anything but amateur.
She knew how to tastefully work the crowd in an engaging yet reserved way. I even wrote: Wow, that smouldering stare into my notebook after gawking at her intense eyes that I was convinced were staring at mine. But I’m sure the girl to my right and the guy behind me felt the same way.
Jordan succeeded in making every person in the audience swoon for her.
Before Snail Mail took the stage, Chicago-native band Varsity kicked off the night with a mellow, almost subdued atmosphere. Lead vocalist Stephanie Smith’s honeyed voice was drowned out by the heavy bass drum and her own synth use, creating a slightly off, unbalanced sound. While the crowd trickled in during their performance, murmurs drifted as Varsity didn’t quite lure the hall’s attention. It wasn’t until they played their biggest hit “So Sad, So Sad” that a sea of bobbing heads synced with Paul Soltz’s banging head as he laid out the bass riff.
After Varsity’s set, the disillusioned scene was broken when an electric-blue, untidy head of hair emerged, attached to a body covered in mismatched tattoos and acid washed overalls— a staple wardrobe item for Lala Lala lead vocalist Lillie West. After a false start, Lala Lala jumped into a much stronger, more intense performance than the previous act, starting with “Water Over Sex.” The energy on stage was much more pronounced, as West pounded through guitar chords and harsh lyrics, sending the crowd chanting: I’m not even listening, you’re not even nothing. The bodies on stage moved more fluidly with the music than those of Varsity, giving a fun energy that the crowd naturally responded to. Lala Lala definitely succeeded in waking up the audience and got the young, excited crowd to jostle around in preparation for the main act.
After what felt like hours of anticipation, the petite girl recognizable by her bright red lipstick and matching guitar came out to a frantically-hollering crowd. I knew Lindsey Jordan was young (now 19 years old and only 16 when she released her first EP Habit), but it only really sunk in when staring face-to-face with this recent high school graduate.
Her entirely black outfit paired with her pale face and platinum chopped hair were not the only contradictions to her presence. Surprisingly, her youthful, innocent glow contrasted harshly with her confident, mature presence on stage.
She began her set with an extended instrumental intro of “Heatwave,” one of the most gut-wrenching experiences presented on the album, as it plunges into a crumbling relationship.
Jordan’s silky yet crackling voice filled each corner of the packed, humid hall. The absence of any sort of press pit near the stage actually made the performance feel even more intimate and homemade, as if she was pouring these tangible and relatable experiences of emotions onto close friends. Just looking around, I could see the sea of young adults swaying and bobbing their heads in agreement with her portrayal of the ups and downs of teenage years that they experienced all too recently.
The crowd was extremely interactive with the performance, especially during her more upbeat songs like “Thinning,” when the crowd’s screaming of every word overpowered her higher wails. A few bold folks shouted their attempts of courting the 19-year-old, with requests like “Please go out with me!” scattered between her words. Her flustered response was adorable to witness.
Though she was accompanied by her touring bandmates, it was clear Jordan was the star of the show, interacting with the crowd as her bandmates lied low in the background.
One of the most memorable moments of the night was when Jordan announced she was excited to bring some friends to the stage. Having just graduated from high school, I figured a few friends from back home in Baltimore came with her to her first show of the new year, but instead, two little girls ran out. As the members of Neptune’s Core, the pre-teens helped Jordan sing “Pristine.”
As cute as they were, it was hard to hear the girls over the chants from the crowd, especially during drawn-out phrases like: Don’t you like me for me?
The nature of Jordan’s pleading lyrics compelled the loudest sing-along the crowd could muster.
Although Snail Mail is not playing any encores on this tour, she performed “Stick” as her last song, which is the only song on her newest album Lush repeated from her first EP Habit released in 2016.
Her clear, strong voice and piercing words cut right through the chaos of our teenage years and the agonies of crushes, breakups, awkward encounters and everything in between. The power and authenticity that Jordan projected through the hall and buried under my skin was utterly emotionally draining, yet cathartic. I felt like I took a freezing plunge into our shared emotional struggles, and I left Metro with a sense of freshness and clarity of leaving my heart’s content in that overcrowded room.