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.
The night after I wrapped up all my finals for the quarter, I was lucky enough to pick up a couple passes to Jay Som and Justus Proffit’s joint set at Schubas’. Full disclosure, I had no idea who the latter was before their joint EP, Nothing’s Changed. A couple singles from the both of them dropped over the summer and I found myself listening on repeat. They both have a penchant for unapologetically honest lyrics, and Jay Som’s electrified bedroom pop meshes perfectly with Justus Proffit’s more acoustic and introspective style. The EP itself was only a brief 5 songs, and left me wanting a lot more.
Opening the night was a local Chicago band Discus who played some cuts off their recent EP. Their bare bones, guitar driven songs were met with a lot of head nodding from the 20 people ambling around the back room of the bar. Despite the small crowd, their set was really fun.
Schubas’ has to be one of my favorite places I’ve seen music so far in Chicago. “Intimate” is a word that gets thrown around a lot when people talk about concerts, as some sort of way to describe the way a good artist can make any room feel small. It’s in that transcendent space where there’s no division between those on the stage and those in the crowd. Schubas’ back room was intimate in a very different sense of the word. There is no backstage, no expansive lighting or visuals to accompany the music, and no barrier with large menacing dudes patrolling the edge of the stage. When Discus finished playing, they hopped into the crowd to join the audience, and Jay Som and friends emerged from the crowd to set up their stuff. It all felt very informal and unrehearsed in the best way.
Jay Som and Justus Proffit mostly stuck to their music, save for a very sincere “thank you” from Melinda Duterte between songs. They played with three guitarists, giving many of the quieter songs from their EP a much fuller sound. With only 5 songs they had recorded together, they each played a couple of their own singles, reworked with the full band. They finished the set out with Justus Proffit’s “angel of mine” and one of Jay Som’s more popular cuts “The Bus Song.” It was really cool to see two artists with distinctly different styles come together on a project and strike the perfect balance between their two unique sounds.
Teens packed into Metro last Friday night to see local sweetheart Omar Apollo’s “BRB” show – his last in Chicago before making an all-too-predictable move to Los Angeles.
Hailing from Hobart, Indiana, Apollo has been no stranger to the Chicago music scene, accumulating quite a following over the past year with the release of debut EP Stereo. Proud of his Hispanic roots, Apollo sometimes incorporates Spanish lyrics over saucy Chicano instrumentals. He is also absolutely adorable, and therefore basically has to fend off fangirls with a stick.
Having seen him last month at Tropicalia Festival in Long Beach, this was not the first time Apollo had graced me with his presence and surprisingly amazing dance moves (apparently he used to take dance classes, as I learned from this Chicago Tribune article). I was thoroughly impressed with his performance at Tropicalia, but was curious to see what a hometown show would be like and eager for him to play a longer set.
The show in itself was honestly more like a mini-festival, with three acts going on before Apollo. First to the stage was Kenny Hoopla, a hip-hop artist with immense energy who claimed he had lost his voice, making his singing terribly off-key. Following was Role Model, seemingly your typical LA fuckboy with perfect hair and Dickie’s pants. Though his performance was good, many of his songs deal with the same oh-so-relatable content of hookup culture. In fact, it kind of came off as him flexing about how many times he has sex. Evanston locals Manwolves were the penultimate act, bringing some much-needed instrumentation to the show. Though their lyrics were simple, the talent of the band was undeniable, with an amazing trumpet player and solid guitar riffs.
In anticipation of Apollo’s set, the crowd became very squished. Like it was hard to breathe. I honestly wasn’t expecting that given the type of music he plays – but like I said, the guy is highly coveted by fangirls everywhere. Sporting a colorful windbreaker, vintage Guess shirt, and a Gucci belt (subtle flex), Apollo came out to upbeat track “Ignorin” and immediately broke out into a salsa. I actually wrote in my notes: Those hips don’t lie. I still stand by this assertion.
As if he couldn’t get any more charming, he announced that his parents were in the balcony, holding a poster complete with baby pictures of Omar. Cuteness overload. He also stated that playing Metro had always been a dream of his, as he had been coming here for concerts since he was a kid. Apollo then performed some of his slower tracks, “Erase,” “Brakelights” and “Pram,” before attempting a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green,” which was soon abandoned because he forgot the lyrics.
Despite this hiccup, the girls continued to scream and shout for him, like right in my ear. It was hard to ignore the effect he obviously has on his fanbase – I mean, these people worship him. Apollo performed “Heart” solo, showcasing his impeccable falsetto which possibly caused someone to faint in the crowd (although it was most likely due to the compactness of the crowd and/or dehydration). As Apollo watched this happen from the stage, a genuine look of fear came across his face. He ordered security guards to pass out an entire case of water, and asked everyone to say a prayer for the girl, adding “No more fainting okay, I got so scared.”
Another highlight of his set was “Algo,” for which he brought out rapper Drayco McCoy, who features on the track. After “Ugotme,” Apollo left the stage, but immediately came back on to perform my personal favorite, “Hijo de Su Madre.” As all three bands occupied the stage, confetti launched into the crowd and Apollo danced around crazily along with the audience. Everyone shouted along with the song, particularly for the lyric “You ain’t ever seen a brown boy like this.” He might just be right.
The third stop on Roy Blair’s first tour brought him to Wicker Park’s Chop Shop on Saturday night. The performance space in back of the restaurant filled with eager high school-aged kids, singing along to “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne and “Love It If We Made It” off of The 1975’s new album.
That being said, they ate up the teenage dream served by opener Jack Larsen, a native of Chicago. Swinging around a bottle of white wine and commenting on how beautiful the crowd was, all the girls in the crowd went crazy. This intensified when Larsen subsequently took his shirt off. He announced that this was his second live show ever, which makes a lot of sense. Larsen sang along to a backing track, and his mic was heavily autotuned. Though the whole ordeal felt a little too cringey for me, a good amount of the audience sang along and screamed his name accordingly.
Waiting then commenced for Roy Blair’s Chicago debut. Known for collaborating on the 2016 solo project of Kevin Abstract (of Brockhampton fame), Blair quickly acquired a niche fanbase. His popularity further proliferated with the release of his debut album Cat Heaven in 2017, leading to this string of sold out shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
As the stage was prepared for Blair, it became clear that he has embraced the trend of more elaborate sets most notably seen from Tyler, The Creator (à la Flog Gnaw) and Travis Scott (à la Astroworld Tour). Blair’s stage design consisted of an Amberwood Drive street sign, skateboard ramp, and projected visual of a house. This made sense, as one of the central themes on Cat Heaven was the familial issues that plagued Blair’s childhood and adolescence.
As expected, the crowd went crazy when Blair finally walked onstage, accompanied by three band members. An intro track led into first song “Alex,” and the show moved pretty consistently from there. His energy was great, jumping around the stage during more angsty tracks “Family” and “Jane.” He premiered a new song, “Above Not Below,” which sounded pretty consistent with the tracks on Cat Heaven. Blair played through all of his album except for “Switchblade,” with his first single “Thunder” standing out as the highlight of his set. Blair seemed perfectly comfortable performing, and although he did interact with the crowd, it was not at all cringey. Blair and his band wasted no time getting back onstage for an encore, during which they performed “Hazel,” the last track on Cat Heaven.
Given the fact that it was his first ever tour, this show was a sign of great potential for Blair. With the indication of a new project on the way, it won’t be long until he blows up – especially now that Matty Healy of The 1975 tweeted about him. Before coming back for the encore, Blair excitedly told the crowd this news; clearly still a fan at heart, yet on the verge of stardom.