When someone says, “New Zealand,” the first things to come to mind are adventure and risk-taking. Just look at the dramatic landscapes the country has and the fact that the jetpack was created there. Expectedly, the music groups that come out of New Zealand are congruent with the country’s adventurous mindset. I walked into Lincoln Hall Wednesday night waiting for my expectations to be fulfilled by The Beths, an indie rock band hailing from Auckland. Instead, I saw a perfectly O.K. show.
Bad Bad Hats opened the night with a set that got better with each song played. The indie pop band from Minneapolis were expressionless as they opened, playing a song called “Write It on Your Heart,” from their most recent release. The crowd nodded along but, for the most part, seemed unphased by the band in front of us. Bad Bad Hats chose to play their faster songs that erred on the side of indie rock, which was a good fit for the crowd that night.
When they counted down into “Shame,” the crowd started to cheer. Like the last time I saw them, Bad Bad Hats were funny and personable, taking the time between songs to interact with the crowd. Seeing them as an opener as opposed to the main act was interesting, they effectively worked the angle of leaving the crowd wanting more which made their opening set one of the best openings I’ve seen.
The Beths walked out soon after without any light dimming or crowd cheering, just a normal walk out on stage. It felt like I was sitting in a basement in high school watching some friends at band practice. Intimate and unfiltered. Setting her cup of tea down and picking up her guitar, lead singer Elizabeth Strokes went right into singing “Whatever.” It was a good song to open with, showcasing their Beach Boy-esque harmonies and fast-paced guitar riffs. I found myself captivated by the lead guitarist of the band, Jonathan Pearce, and his intensity while playing. To put it simply, he was shredding. Pearce’s energy was refreshing, especially later on in the show when it seemed like the band was losing its footing.
As their performance continued, The Beths streamlined one song into the next and interacted with the crowd minimally. I would have enjoyed this type of performance more if I was able to hear Strokes’ song lyrics. By the third song of the night, it became apparent that she was having microphone problems. Strokes continually glanced at the backstage area, nodding towards the microphone while playing her guitar. During “Not Running,” a song about being vulnerable and brave during a difficult conversation, Strokes turned away from the crowd and walked towards her amp. Maybe the movement was for irony sake, or maybe she was trying to use her body language to communicate to whoever controlled the sound levels, but it felt more aimless than anything.
This feeling of aimlessness and confusion continued throughout the night. When the band finally took time to talk to the crowd, Strokes got up and tried to say, “Thanks for coming,” but ended up stuttering over a few of the words and then throwing her hands up in defeat. Usually, I would find this endearing, the whole “talented people make mistakes too” kind of deal, but after the off-putting wandering around the stage, it just emphasized the dull performance that they had been putting on.
The Beths performed every song off of their latest release Future Me Hates Me as well as a few others from their first EP Warm Blood. Both releases came out in 2018 and explore the trials and tribulations a person goes through internally when in a relationship. The band did make use of the lights in Lincoln Hall, which was nice. Most of their songs have similar sounding riffs, so the different light formations for each song helped the band evoke whatever feeling they were going for and “stood in” for the quiet vocals.
As the night came to a close, the energy in the room picked up a bit. The crowd was clapping along and The Beths seemed a bit more comfortable on stage. After playing “Less than Thou,” they said thank you and left the stage. The drummer was blushing and had a grin on his face as they walked off, signaling that they would most definitely be doing an encore. Although I was ready to leave at that point, I stayed and watched The Beths close the night out with “Uptown Girl.” There is no doubt that The Beths are talented, even with microphone troubles they were able to get the crowd head-bobbing. Hopefully, when they return to Chicago, they will bring a couple more tricks up their sleeves and have a working microphone.
For some reason, the crowd at Chicago’s House of Blues for this March 3rd show moves like a herd of decaffeinated zombies. Only three bands play in one of the shortest lineups I’ve seen for metal bands, yet the setups between bands drag on for eternity.
Palisades plays first, and the crowd stands uncomfortably still as the lead singer shifts robotically in the same, five-feet of space on the stage. The band’s generic hard-core sound is just that: generic. Lead singer Louis Miceli hollers some short, uninspired choruses over repetitive guitar riffs that fade into an indistinguishable chugging with the rest of the instruments. At least the bassist is good.
On average, setup between bands takes no more than half an hour: usually less. As the setup before the next band drags on past this unspoken maximum, my friend sighs, “I need a drink for this.” It seems like everyone else does too. As the night goes on, drunk audience members lean sleepily against pillars. Oddly enough, hardly anyone actually leaves the venue at this nearly sold-out concert.
Next up, Of Mice & Men takes the stage with a small bump rather than a bang. I’ve listened to the metalcore group since high school, and like many of the other fans at the show, I only knew the lyrics to their older songs like “O.G. Loko” and “Would You Still Be There.” Even for these songs, I look around the audience of around a thousand and see only a handful or so singing along.
The band almost never moves around the stage, which has plenty of space for the lead singer of Nothing More to climb an enormous lighting fixture later that night. Like many of the bands I used to listen to, I get the impression that Of Mice & Men have sold out. While this is not always a bad thing, their new music blends together and the new singer (who recently replaced Austin Carlile) lacks the energy to entertain an audience. When Of Mice & Men play their last song of the night, nary a crowd surfer enters the sky. Rather than a metal concert’s typical tsunami of movement, this crowd is but a tranquil, drunken lake.
After nearly an hour of setup time before the night’s headliner, the crowd’s anticipatory energy reaches its peak. Behind an enormous curtain that covers the stage, the shadows of the band members of Nothing More appear one by one. The outline of the band’s lead singer Jonny Hawkins climbs some sort of light fixture behind the curtain as the band’s musical intro builds momentum and the crowd cheers with the most enthusiasm it has had all night.
Although unfamiliar with the band, their initial energy raises my hopes for the set to come. When the curtain lifts, I immediately notice their impressive, multi-tiered lighting setup, and at one point, Hawkins actually picks up a heavy-looking light and holds it above the crowd.
He runs shirtless across the stage as if trying to compensate for the lack of energy earlier in the night. He has painted the right half of his torso black while leaving a crescent moon of skin around his right nipple that draws the attention to him and his actually decent vocals. Hawkins reaches an impressive range of highs and lows, and his vocals soar above the quality of the rest of the band.
They fall into that overproduced, pop-punk category that tries to sound hardcore but fails. While Hawkins’ charismatic personality and musical talent are quite an improvement from the rest of the show’s musicians, he simply cannot carry an entire concert by himself. Few people can. Even with some impressive pyrotechnics, Nothing More just can’t revive this concert’s stubbornly dead crowd.
Brooklyn-based duo Wet wants their shows to be as accessible to the public as possible. “If we could eliminate money from the equation, we would. It’s such a bummer how expensive [show tickets] can be” said lead singer Kelly Zutrau in a pre-show interview.
“My worst nightmare is a show where only rich people are there, that sounds like a shitty show” she added, laughing.
I imagine that Zutrau was satisfied with the diversity and intimacy of Tuesday night’s crowd at the Subterranean. The two-story venue was small, but packed, and the love Wet received from the audience resembled that of a crowd twice its size.
Two songs on Hana Vu’s debut album, “How Many Times Have You Driven By” are featured on Spotify’s Bedroom Pop playlist. This gave me a perception of Vu’s sound as guitar-heavy and airy. During this tour, however, the 18-year-old has been forming an identity as a hard rocker. Vu filled the venue with loud, passionate vocals and sonic electric guitar echoes that packed a punch.
For those arriving early enough to catch her 5:30 set time, Vu did some awkward but charming crowd-work with lines like: “I usually ask what you guys had for dinner but it’s, like, 2 PM right now. So, I’m just gonna do more songs.” This served as a reminder of her youth and at times, it was jarring to hear how abruptly she switched from this gentle banter to another high-octane song.
Her last, and most popular song “Crying on the Subway,” represented her most stylistically diverse offering. She accentuated the end of each phrases with 80s pop-esque vocal yips. When her set concluded, she gave a simple “thanks!” and hurried off the stage, another demonstration of her adjusting to the tour circuit.
Kilo Kish brought an energy unlike any I had ever seen live. Her intro music consisted of rumbling and submarine noises and she took the stage wearing a striking silver dress and silver eyelid makeup to match. As strobe lights went in and out, the room practically vibrated with every bass thump. Kish also used her body to convey the emotion in her music; strutting, prancing and even doing the running man around the stage over the sizzling electronic production.
While some may know Kish from her comforting, cotton ball-like voice, she did not feature it as much as I would have liked. The overbearing presence of the production often made her difficult to hear. It took the softer beat on “Age and Self-Esteem: A Funhouse Mirror,” for the crowd to finally hear these soothing vocals.
Kish’s set felt much more like a performance than a concert. It was Kilo’s world and the audience was living in it in this one; she chose to severely limit audience engagement. The audience did not seem to mind, though. A few particularly devoted fans confidently shouted out the lyrics to songs like “Self Importance” and her tornado-like energy on the stage was met with copious whoops from the crowd.
Kelly Zutrau came out wearing all black and looked comfortable onstage from the start. She showed this through frequent interaction with the audience. For “This Woman Loves You,” she went deep into the song’s backstory as a reaction toward past lovers, and the United States as a whole. The vulnerability continued when she sat down centerstage with her autoharp to play “All the Ways” and “Still Run.”
For many of Wet’s pre-recorded tracks, producer Joe Valle cooks up a tranquil backing track. Live, though, Wet takes a different approach, adding bass and drums to their live performances. This proved to be a fantastic choice because Zutrau was up to the task, shining alongside the instrumentation with a more powerful voice than one would hear in studio versions.
Themes of feminism and female empowerment played an important role, especially in Wet’s set. Zutrau commented on her good fortune of touring with Vu and Kish: “It’s rare to have a tour with all female headliners.” Wet’s track “Lately” stood out, as it coupled Zutrau’s frustration from a toxic relationship with a catchy chorus that turns the tables on her lover: “You look at me like something’s wrong if I ever ask for help / But what have you done for me lately?” It was clear that “Lately” spoke to a lot of the audience in different ways. As she sang the breathy soulful chorus, older couples swayed from side to side in each other’s arms and 15-year-old girls mouthed every word.
As a whole, the crowd responded well not only to Zutrau’s vocals but also to her general demeanor. It was clear Zutrau was thankful to be there and she expressed her gratitude on multiple occasions, saying, “Chicago, I can always count on you to fill up a room” and staging an impromptu meet and greet after the show where she signed fans’ posters. What was not to love?
AURORA’s set looked like the dark, yet beautiful forest in a fairytale. The surrealism of the hazy purple mountains, trees, and clouds was completed by the three floating jellyfish-like entities in front of it, which would pulsate in different colors to the beat of her music. At once whimsical and otherworldly, the set mimicked AURORA herself, who was in many ways the fairy who completed her fairytale set. After discarding her shoes and socks after only the second song of her set, she seemed to float across the stage.
The energy of AURORA’s crowd was like nothing I have ever seen. They sang every single word to every single song, from the moment she walked onstage to the haunting “Churchyard” to the last notes of her closer, “Queendom”. AURORA’s show was truly for everyone. Everyone fit in, from the middle-aged man with a “Running With the Wolves” tattoo on the back of his neck to the two women wearing kimonos and faces adorned with sparkling rhinestones to the dozens of fans who had painted red lines on their faces to mimic AURORA’s latest album cover, and her own stage makeup.
My favorite fan interaction, however, came after the show. I went across the street to Wrigleyville to get some french fries, and a family of 4 sat down right next to me. The mom told me that, for her 4- and 6-year-old daughters, AURORA was their first concert ever. Her four year old had discovered AURORA while messing around with YouTube suggested on her mom’s phone, and after copious late night dance parties, they decided to go to the concert. The dad told me how the 6-year-old had refused to sit in a chair when the security guard offered, and instead danced the whole entire show. This 6-year-old girl was a microcosm of an incredibly diverse audience in terms of age, race, and gender, that packed the Metro and created a palpable aura of excitement that was present the entire set.
The dichotomy between AURORA’s singing and speaking presence was extreme. While singing, she seemed perfectly at home in her fairytale world, moving to her own rhythm, and kicking, spinning, punching, and gyrating to her heart’s content. There was not a moment during a song when AURORA was not moving, and when she stopped the quiet and stillness was all the more notable. In a soft-spoken tone of voice between songs, she spoke to the audience about her music, about a bug she once found in her hair, about the ramen she ate before her show, and seemingly anything that came to her mind. At one point she addressed a fan in the crowd, who three years earlier had asked her at a show if she’d ever tried Chipotle.
As a Norwegian artist who hadn’t spent much time in the states, she hadn’t tried Chipotle, but had promised him she would. Upon seeing him in line for the show earlier in the day, she immediately recognized him and had to unfortunately inform him that she had not tried Chipotle yet. Recognizing a fan she had said a few words to three years earlier, and remembering their exact conversation, did not seem remarkable to AURORA; she had many such anecdotes, and it seemed as if to her each of these moments were precious things.
After a moment like this, I could see why her fans were so enamored by her. A favorite moment of the set was when she sang “Runaway”, a song she wrote when she was only 12 years old. A girl next to me started crying during the song, and I could not help but feel moved as well. Although AURORA’s set was 14 songs, which is lengthier than most artists, as she finished her set with Queendom I did not want it to end. I had come into the concert thinking her sound was cool and her lyrics were interesting, and not having much else to say about her. I left as a member of her Queendom; in a few short hours, I understood the worshipful attitude every single fan in the room held towards her, and shared it. If you can make it to an AURORA show at any point, I could not recommend her more. Her lyrical genius truly shines in songs like “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” and “Infections of a Different Kind”, you will not be able to stop dancing when listening to “Running With The Wolves” and “Warrior”, and you will not be able to stop smiling as she holds full on conversations with audience members. AURORA’s show was not just a concert, but an immersive experience in her fairytale Queendom.
When I was 16, Hippie Sabotage came to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico with Alex Wiley and Mike Gao. Even after hours of begging my mom to let me go to the concert she refused. They were playing at Sunshine Theater which is a notoriously dangerous venue in a bad part of town, so I understood my mom’s refusal. I spent the night enviously watching Snapchat videos from my friends who went to the show. Videos of the hypnotic lights, Hippie Sabotage sharing joints with the audience and one of my friends even getting on stage with them made me want to see them even more. On Friday night, I finally got that opportunity.
Hippie Sabotage’s show at Riviera Theater on March 1st surpassed all of my 16-year-old self’s expectations. Right after their initial introduction to the crowd, Jeff Saurer, one of the brothers in the EDM duo, announced, “if you have never seen us live, this is what I like. I like dancing, I like jumping, I like screaming, I like yelling, I like crowd surfing the whole show.” This primed the audience for the show that was to come.
The production of the show was pretty good overall. The lit up boxes behind the duo helped add to the mood of the show. While Jeff’s voice sounded great, the music didn’t seem to be loud enough throughout the entire show. Other than the low sound, the show was great. The music was fantastic, as was the mood and energy of the show.
The first song the duo played, which seemed to be a new beat, was prefaced by Kevin Saurer screaming in his deep, raspy voice, “make some noise” and demanding that the audience put their hands up. Kevin counted down from three, and then the beat dropped. Every single person in the crowd was dancing, jumping, screaming and yelling just as Jeff had requested.
The duo had the crowd in their hands the entire show. Every time they asked the crowd to split down the middle, hold them above the crowd or calm down for their slower songs, their wish was immediately enacted. For songs like Devil Eyes and Your Soul, the audience sang every word. After saying yes to the audience’s request for an encore, the duo closed out the show with a brand new song. Hippie Sabotage lived up to everything that 16-year-old me expected and I can’t wait to see them again.
When Parcels took the stage Friday night at Lincoln Hall, the five-member group looked exceedingly put together in their crisp, seemingly never-worn outfits, as if this performance were a new start. Guitarist Jules Crommelin, who bears an uncanny resemblance to George Harrison with his shaggy hair and bushy mustache, was clad in a dark brown suit, white turtleneck, and Blundstones. Keyboardist Patrick Hetherington wore a loose T-shirt with “Star Dust” lettered on it, tucked into tan plaid pants. This tour does mark a new beginning of sorts for the Australian band that relocated to disco central in Germany: it’s not their first time on tour, but it is their first for a full-length album (Parcels released their debut, self-titled album in October).
At first I saw the group’s new-looking clothes and Beatles-like aesthetic as put on and calculated, but their genuineness was evident almost immediately, the spell of photo-shoot-perfect appearances broken first when I spotted sweat trickling down Crommelin’s forehead, and second when he opened his mouth to greet the audience, giddy to be in Chicago. Hetherington sipped on tea between songs, which I found endearing. The group’s cohesiveness is clear and part of what I think makes Parcels’ music so successful. No one member is at the forefront of the group; during their performance, they took turns singing songs and chatting with the crowd.
Parcels may have a 60s British boy band look, but their music only partially reflects that. It’s hard to resist dancing to their songs, which edge into pop but are pulled into another realm by disco, soul, and electronic elements. The band opened with “Comedown,” which felt like a warm invitation and initiation into the concert with its upbeat keyboard, quick guitar picking and simple wisdom that “When it falls you can find a way out,” and “When it’s gone you can cry, / let it go and try.” Parcels’ songs lyrics are relatively basic and abstract, but in every other way, their music is complex. Parcels has mastered the art of making music that is repetitive yet hard to stop listening to. Its songs feature pauses that are unexpected but don’t disturb the flow of the music, innumerable catchy hooks, and intriguing layerings of instruments and synths. For the most part, Parcels’ music rejects the traditional pop song structure.
The highlight of the show was the eight-and-a-half minute “Everyroad,” which was intensified by Parcels’ choice to not play the spoken word samples that are on the otherwise instrumental recording. The synth-heavy song built slowly, with upward key changes and increasing volume, before suddenly calming down to expose Hetherington playing softly on the keyboard. He swept his fingers across the keys in a twinkling downward scale just as a wisp from the fog machine clogged my vision, making me feel as if I were falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. After seven minutes of anticipation, the song rapidly crescendoed out of its soft phase into its peak, with reverberating, distorted keyboard noises and pulsing electronic synth noises so low I could feel their vibrations. This climax felt like an explosion, but in the most pleasant way possible. The end of the song brought more applause and “whoops” from the audience than I’ve never seen in the middle of a show. I looked up to the balcony to see a man lifting his arms up and down in synchrony, hailing the band in appreciation.
Parcels ended their show on a reprise of “Comedown.” Each band member set down his instrument one-by-one, took a deep bow, and walked off the stage. It was a strip-down of the energy built up over the course of the last couple hours, but Parcels’ tunes refused to leave my head long after we were left only with Anatole “Toto” Serret and his dangling earrings swinging to the rhythm of his lone drum.
“I want you to say that my hair looks nice and my face has a Beckham-like quality”
I could see the sweat drip down Alex Cameron’s cheek as he sang these lines six inches from my face – close enough to attest that his face does sort of resemble Beckham.
The atmosphere at Thalia Hall was incredibly intimate. The small, square stage referred to as “The Round” was only elevated about two feet off the floor. Joining Alex on stage would have required comparable effort to climbing a single stair. I was shocked that no one attempted this feat since there were as many cocktails in the audience as people, although the stage was commonly utilized as a counter for unfinished drinks.
Alex Cameron is truly a character – in all connotations of the word. He not only sings through the lens of a fictional sleazy character on his most recent album Forced Witness but also personifies a truly captivating unconventional stage presence. At Thalia, Alex wildly danced across the stage with such natural ease that I had difficulty believing that this was, in fact, his first performance using a cordless microphone. There was certainly no shortage of his signature side-step dance move (watch the Stranger’s Kiss music video for a tutorial).
Alex’s satirical nature revealed itself the very moment he emerged on stage. In a tri-layered outfit composed of a navy suit, a red-polka dot button-down, and a white muscle tee, he opened with “Studmuffin96,” an 80’s synth-inspired song about an older man’s sensual relationship with his young lover – a girl who is “almost seventeen.” Not your typical subject for a catchy tune, but the facetious lyrics did not stop the crowd from going absolutely wild. Everyone in the audience seemed to merge as one unified radiant force; the 360-degree nature of the stage allowed for a one-of-a-kind experience in which I often forgot that the people singing and laughing around me were in fact strangers.
I left the show feeling as if I had just witnessed a nearly perfect fusion of incredible live music and comedy. Alex’s hysterical commentary between songs completely undermined the mediocre stand-up set of the show’s first opening act. A large portion of his jokes were centered around his saxophonist, or in Alex’s word’s “business partner,” Roy Molloy, the only other musician to accompany him on stage (Alex queued the rest of the instrumentals before each song with a quick click on his laptop). Alex loves to boast about Roy’s peculiar traits, such as his claim to fame as being both a renowned train conductor and the world’s “most prolific google reviewer” (whether these claims are mythical is up for debate).
Roy contributed a significant comedic element as well during his famed stool review, a hilarious improvised evaluation of the stool he sits on during the show. This time, he gave the dubbed “Shibatsu Bar Stool” a 4 out of 5. Well done, Thalia.
Alex boldly concluded his show without an encore, certainly leaving his fans deprived of more entrancing synthesizers. However, Alex was surely speaking to the audience when he sang, “We’re gonna get my show back.” The brevity of his set undoubtedly left the crowd envisioning their next opportunity to personally experience Alex’s outrageousness – I know that’s certainly what was on my mind.
If you’ve never witnessed a full-grown, bearded man crowd surf to a skinny white girl screaming about grilled cheese, you’ve never seen Cherry Glazerr at Bottom Lounge.
Last Saturday night, Palehound warmed up the stage. Or rather, they blasted the radiator too high, producing not quite the desired temperature. They seemed a bit high school-esque in their bright pink and yellow dress up, banging their heads to every noisy note. It sounded like they were sampling that stereotypical sound from Rockband, and it looked like that’s where drummer Jesse Weiss drew from for his all-too-predictable smashing solo. I definitely respected their passion and excitement on stage — isn’t that a huge part of rock music? — but I felt it was just a little too over the top in a cliche GarageBand way.
But as soon as I saw giant inflatable cherries being dragged to the stage, I knew I was in for a treat. I had only listened to a few of Cherry Glazerr’s songs prior to this show, but I heard someone behind me describe their style as “grunge pop,” and I haven’t found a better way to label them since.
Lead vocalist Clementine Creevy’s energy was electric and just plain wild. I hadn’t realized I’d been waiting for someone to throw up their arms and scream CHICAGO since I moved here, but when Clementine did just that, everyone in the audience came to life.
By the time she growled during the second song of the night, “Had Ten Dollaz,” the crowd was livid. One song after another, from “Nurse Ratched” to “Juicy Socks,” Cherry Glazerr — but more specifically Clementine Creevy — became more and more eccentric, hopping across the stage and tweaking her face with every stroke of her guitar.
While a preliminary mosh pit began pretty early on during the performance of “White’s Not My Color This Evening,” mosh pit 2.0 — set off by the newly released song “Daddi” — sent the security guards pushing through to the center. That seemed to hush the crowd for a total of 20 seconds before the electricity from the stage sent the audience into unpredictable movements yet again.
As Cherry Glazerr played one song after another, mixing songs from their less-than-a-month-old album Stuffed & Ready with older songs (which helped pick out the diehard fans in the crowd), the animation and commotion exuding from the stage and bouncing through the audience escalated steadily. The energy fueled by the crowd’s pleas for an encore sent Clementine crawling off the stage and into the crowd with every jerky, twitching movement.
By the end of the show, sweat dripped from both the band members and the screamed-out crowd. And after their last encore song “Told You I’d Be With The Guys,” Cherry Glazerr retired from the stage, leaving the vibrant energy stagnant in the air.
My ears were still ringing with Miya Folick’s poignant voice as I walked away from Schubas Tavern Saturday night. Her notes pierced the foggy forty-degree night she performed on. It might’ve been her first headlining tour in Chicago, but it definitely wouldn’t be her last.
When I got to Schubas fifteen minutes before the opener started, a crowd had already gathered. Barrie, a dream pop band from Brooklyn, took the stage quietly and with a mutual head nod, they started playing. The band had a relaxed look, with a member rocking a rolled beanie hat, one in a velvet shirt, and the lead singer wearing pants that looked like sweats.
They caught the crowd’s attention once they reached their fourth song of the night, “Clover,” a new track on their upcoming first full-length album. Their synth-heavy sound and lulling voices made for, what I described in my notes as, “indie elevator music.” The group gave off an all-around “chill” vibe which was only emphasized when the lead singer, Barrie herself, pulled her hair back while she was playing guitar. After their drummer decided to take off his shoes and socks, and Barrie took a drink of what she said was water out of a Le Croix can, the band played a song from their first E.P “Singles” called “Tal Uno,” which had a very 80s feel to it. When their set was over the sheepishly thanked the crowd, but no one seemed to notice. Overall, Barrie’s soft opening performance didn’t seem to excite anyone in the crowd.
Contrastingly, when Miya Folick ran through Schubas side door and onto the stage the crowd gasped collectively. She was wearing a white satin shirt that had a western feel to it with fringes on the chest and down the arms, paired with matching white satin pants. Her outfit was fitting for her performance—something she could do but if anyone else tried they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Folick didn’t grin when she walked on stage; instead, she gazed out into the room with a haunting expression and began to snap. The crowd, entranced, was silent waiting in anticipation. The first few lines she sang were from a short unreleased song titled “I’m Hard.” The synth built behind her until the room shook, then suddenly the beat shifted and she began to moan the first few lines to “Premonitions,” the namesake of her first full-length album that came out this past October.
Premonitions is an album that explores the contrasting nature of everyday life, how we’re empowered and powerless all at once. This contrast came through in Folick’s performance Saturday night when she followed her ballad-esque songs with her upbeat, syncopated bassline tunes. Like when she sang “Stock Image,” the crowd screamed as she slowly crawled across the front of the stage, making serious eye contact with everyone in the first row. Then she immediately followed that intensity with the lighthearted, “Leave the Party,” a song that warranted singing along and pony-stepping from everyone listening.
Folick’s lyrics are a sign of the times with lines like, “Read Wikipedia til my eyelids fall down,” or “‘Cause I scroll and don’t see new anything,” and during her performance she took time to talk about issues of the time we’re living in right now. She encouraged our generation to focus on effective communication, after singing “Stop Talking,” a song about someone obsessively talking about a person they’re interested in. She gave a speech about feeling unworthy and how the negative perception people have of themselves needs to be changed before singing “Thingamajig.” Although these messages are important and uplifting, I felt like she delivered them in a rehearsed and cliché way which didn’t add to my overall experience. It was Folick’s powerhouse voice, the tears in her eyes, and her body language that I felt evoked these messages more effectively than her saying it outright.
Over the course of the night her dancing got wilder, her singing got stronger, and her entire performance became more captivating. She ended her set with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and it was easy to see why she chose to close with that. With every note, her raw vocal talent haunted the room. When the song ended, the crowd stood there dumbfounded—what had we all just witnessed? All I walked away knowing was that the next time Miya Folick is in town, I’ll be seeing her again.
Evanston’s Space was the perfect venue for A&O’s annual benefit, hosting Chicagoland-natives DJ King Marie, Kaina, Monte Booker, and Kweku Collins for an intimate, energetic, and emotional evening. A fundraiser for Young Chicago Authors, these artists’ performances got at the heart of Chicago’s music scene: community.
DJ King Marie hour-long set came first, a dynamic collection of beats, songs, and sounds that touched on Chicago’s deep roots in Hip-hop and R&B. Sporting a navy blue jumpsuit, she brought a particular swag to the stage, sampling songs with deep female vocalists backed by mellow beats, giving a fresh and danceable feel to traditional R&B tunes. The deep blue illuminating the stage-matched her cool vibe, drawing a timid audience closer. As more listeners piled in, she transitioned to high tempo beats, featuring crowd (and Chicago) favorites such as Ravyn Lenae’s “Sticky,” Chance the Rapper’s “All Night” and Jorja Smith’s “On My Mind.” DJ King Marie’s transitions were smoove, and by the end of her set, the crowd clearly wanted to keep grooving.
After a short transition, a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player drifted to the front, playing jazzy scales as the crowd patiently waited for the next performer. Kaina finally graced the stage, grabbing everyone’s attention with her glittery top and luscious curly hair. Another young Chicago-based performer whose Instagram and Twitter bios read “I work hard and love my city,” Kaina’s music tells of family, love, intimacy, and gratitude.
Within minutes of her entrance, she had enchanted the room with her soft, savory voice, inspiring the crowd to sing along to 4u, a pleasing set-opener and featured song on her 2018 EP. “I could be anything for you,” she sang in a slow, almost seductive manner, as some voices in the crowd joined in. She followed up with Cry, then f*cked up, which she playfully preceded by asking: “Do you ever regret not making a move?” We all laughed, and the positive, silly energy flowed into her slow repetition of the Spice Girls’ notorious lyrics ‘If You Wanna Be My Lover’ — an instant crowd pleaser. A cover of “Dos Gardenias” by Buena Vista Social Club came next. A beautiful, relaxed rendition of this Cuban-inspired hit showcased Kaina’s proud Latinx roots, and with disco lights overhead and a magical piano solo, the passion reverberated through the room.
She finished up the set with Happy (off 4u), dedicated to those in life that “ground you,” featuring a polished guitar solo. Finally, came “Honey,” her #2 Spotify hit from a 2016 EP, a collaborative piece with Chicago’s own Andrew Bedows and Burns Twins. A dreamy drum solo sparked the crowd into song, and as we followed along to the song’s catchy bridge, repeating “You’re sweet Asl, give you all my love,” the sugar in her voice flowed through us. “You’re sweet as hell, Northwestern,” she said, as we begged for more. Thanks to her Chicagoan, community-driven heart and endearing vocals and lyrics, Kaina made everyone feel loved.
Monte Booker came up next, shifting the soft, intimate vibe into yet another upbeat atmosphere. He sampled many crowd favorites, beginning with Childish Gambino’s trap hit “This is America,” which initiated an instant crowd sing-along. The melodic backdrop to Gambino’s song blended beautifully into a series of major scale runs on a harp, creating a dreamy feel to the already relaxed room.
Booker did not stick to the slow pace for long, though. As the harp sounds fizzled out, he shocked the audience with an explosive beat behind “Like a Light” by Travis Scott, sparking another crowd outpour. He kept this energy up by adding tropical undertones to the 2007 throwback “Pop Lock and Drop It,” which gave the traditionally pop-y song a more groovy fix. He finished up his set with three more hits: Amine’s “Reel It In” (2018), “Anita” by Smino (2017), and one of his earliest songs from his 2015 album Soulection white Label, “Kolors ft. Smino.”
Monte Booker left the high-energy crowd full of excitement, gearing up for A&O’s last performer, Kweku Collins. An Evanston native, Collins was delighted to be back in his hometown, as he mentioned in an after-show interview. “It’s fairly surreal,” he said. Indeed, Collins’ connection to the space was clear, as he nodded at familiar faces in the crowd and shared anecdotes about his beloved hometown throughout the dreamlike set.
Collins began with “Dec. 25”, a deeply emotional song about loss, nostalgia, and the fleeting nature of time. This may have been a bold move, but Collins does not stray away from shocking his audience with emotion. Blending his signature groans with bursts of song and bass, this powerful set-opener, from his latest album Grey (2017), immediately engaged the crowd.
He then came on with his 2018 single “ET,” followed by a series of songs from Grey, including “Oasis2: Maps”, “International Business Trip”, and “Aya.” He also featured some of his older hits, such as “The Last” from his 2016 album Nat Love, and, closing his eyes throughout most of the song, he sang his Spotify #1 hit “Lonely Lullabies.” As the meditative song slowed to a stop, he awakened and admitted that he had forgotten we were all there.
He finished off his set with “The Outsiders,” another crowd favorite from Nat Love in which he shouts out the four directional neighborhoods of Evanston. The Evanstonians (including myself) in the room loved it, sharing a particular joy and pride with Collins for our hometown.
It is no wonder Collins enjoys performing in the place he grew up. He, like the other three performers, is proud of where he comes from, and as he spoke a bit more in depth about the various types of crowds he encountered while touring, he noted that the blended Northwestern/ Evanston audience made him feel “physically subdued” and “at home.” That’s all an audience could ever want, right?