Los Campesinos played a high-energy, though unlucky, show at Thalia Hall on Thursday. As lead singer Gareth David explained, half of their gear was stranded somewhere in Oklahoma. The indie-pop group didn’t seem to be too bothered; their set was long, dedicated, and peppy. On the tenth anniversary tour honoring their debut album Hold On Now, Youngster, the group pushed themselves on borrowed instruments and had a great performance.
Adult Mom, a queer rock band, played a solid opening set. Their quirky, fun style works well in a venue as intimate as Thalia Hall. “Told Ya So,” “Route ‘59,” and “Full Screen” were great examples of the band’s smart instrumentation and catchy hooks.“First Day of Spring” was a slight tonal shift, paring the sound down to its singer-songwriter origins for the first verse.
Stephanie Knipe’s lyrics can stand up to this minimalist arrangement, but the band was at its best with the full rock setup. Knipe’s semi-solo moment (the lead guitarist was the only other performer on stage) was the first time where the acoustic guitar could actually be heard. It’s a unique part of their instrumentation, but it practically couldn’t be distinguished on any other song. The gesture to the band’s start as a solo act, though, is a thoughtful one.
Los Campesinos opened with “Ways to Make It Through the Wall,” and right from the beginning the energy onstage was impressive. Gareth David, lead vocal, sings with his whole body. While some of the band members were fairly stationary, like Tom Bromley on lead guitar, singer Kim and bassist Matt were dancing, pacing, and sustaining the high energy that characterized their performance. Their instrumentation was tight, mostly synth-based and very pop-influenced. For their set, they chose a great mix of old and new and showed an interesting cross-section of the band’s ten-year career. Despite some changes to the musicians, Los Campesinos has maintained their distinctive brand of indie-pop.
That same distinctness was partially what made their animated set start to drag slightly towards the end. The energy of the fans was unceasing, but the synth runs and heavy guitar feedback started to sound the same as the band got deeper in the setlist. Gareth’s forceful singing also made the lyrics (usually clever and interesting) more noise than sound unless sufficient attention was given to parsing them out. That said, the vocal contrast between Kim and Gareth added a cool dimension, even at the most lazy listen. “What Death Leaves Behind” showed an interesting synth-guitar interplay, and “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” had a great guitar line, but for the most part the most catchy runs were electronic. The excitement of the crowd was contagious, though. The audience kept up with the band’s energy and danced, sang, and shouted their way through an extended, involved set.
How many shrimp do you have to eat before you become a hit internet sensation? It’s pretty typical of bands/artists that gain fame from memes to not know what to do with that fame and end up falling off. I mean, when was the last time you heard Mason Ramsey do something? That being said, Kero Kero Bonito had every intention of keeping the sound that claimed their fame on their sophomore album Graduation; an album filled with infectious hooks, cutesy production with a lot of depth, and enough songs to satisfy those looking for more fun. This begs the question: where do they go from here?
With the release of their new EP, TOTEP, into their new touring album, Time ‘n’ Place, KKB proves that their success was not a mistake, but that they are a living, breathing band with every intention of coming into their own. On their latest wave, KKB has adopted more noisy sounds while still keeping their branded soft, floaty, sweet, optimistic flair. Whether this is provided from Sarah Midori’s softer voice, or the newer, fresh, catchy melodies throughout the song, or the random samples that creep on you while you listen, one thing is for certain: KKB shouldn’t have much to prove on this new tour. From their promotion and their seemingly new direction that has received much approval from audiences and critics alike, KKB has had no trouble selling out venues and drawing a large crowd in America. However, I can’t say that you will not be surprised by what you will see.
One thing that instantly caught me off guard was the diversity of the crowd. Both the opener, Tanuki-chan, and KKB are active in a current wave of Asian women in rock music, and a larger movement to push more representation in the music industry, enabling more people to come to concerts and feel comfortable in more public spaces. All of this resulted in an atmosphere that one couldn’t but feel safe and happy to be a part of.
Tanuki-chan’s opening set was the perfect mood setter. Her fun, catchy grooves and soft melodies was a great way for audience members to leave their worries at the door and focus on the music. What came next was a sound that I think nobody could have predicted. KKB trickled onto the stage, one by one, with their opener track on “Time ‘n’ Place,” Outside, and their energy completely encapsulated the room. This band sounds like it’s changing; that they want to change. Each band member to their own right displayed a level of tight-knit competency that allowed Midori to move freely around the stage and interact with the audience. While they played the songs that people knew them for, they sounded different. But one thing was for sure: KKB puts on a show that you should be a part of.
There was one moment towards the end of the concert when she addressed the audience to state how she couldn’t believe that she was on a stage performing in front of an audience like this, and how fortunate she was for her situation. To which she gave a piece of advice: “If you want to do something, just do it. It will all work out soon.” I think that this very much sums up the night, and the ethos of KKB. This new direction they’re heading stands as a milestone for them, a chance to cement themselves in musical history as a band that is pushing for more representation in music. Yet, while their future is completely unknown, Midori and crew are living in the moment, approaching the future with an optimistic smile on their face.
As individuals packed into Lincoln Hall on Monday night, all were unsuspecting of the utter astonishment they were soon to witness. With an audience connecting to the music while experiencing slight unfamiliarity, it’s safe to say that Yellow Days brought forth an unforgettable appearance. With nine songs on the setlist, Yellow Days won over the audience once again with an encore.
However, the audience seemed to be most engaged by the artistic choices made by singer George van den Broek, drummer Milo Goldsmith, bassist Hector Delicious, and keyboardist Oliver Cadman. Allowing their emotions to guide them, the musicians varied the tempo, intermittently slowing for a deeper effect, and speeding up to increase the audience’s energy. Similarly, lead singer Broek intermixed his personal taste in which he lifted the pitch of his voice with the end of each phrase. With the combination of of each individual’s artistic input, an intimate sound was created that Yellow Days and the audience alike knew would forever only live in that moment.
Another incredible aspect to Yellow Day’s performance Monday night were the visual effects that accompanied each song. Depending on the mood, colorful lights would shine a pleasant mix of warm and cool tones, reflecting ambient vibes of mellowness and energy. Similarly, smoke would become visible through colorful beams of light and add to the visibly pleasing effect of the performance.
After Yellow Days performed, the crowd roared for an encore and the musicians returned to the stage with intent to unite the crowd in melody. They proceeded to execute Etta James’s ‘I Saw The Light,’ with the classic Yellow Days hypnotically beautiful flair. The cover itself provided an intimacy that allowed the audience to feel as if they were with Yellow Days in a practice session.
Furthermore, Lincoln Hall itself proved to be an impressive venue. With seats lining the upper balcony and ample floor space below; there was it was impossible to have been in an inconvenient spot. Given the energy of the room, it’s safe to say that Yellow Day’s put on an unforgettable experience in Lincoln Hall.
One of the most annoyingly catchy and persistent genres of today’s trendy online world is bedroom pop. Feeling like an 80’s synth-pop dream, bedroom pop is largely defined by its lo-fi nature and the fact that it’s often created in the homes of the artists themselves instead of through a music studio. Because of this, almost anyone with a Mac, Logic, and a half-decent stringed instrument can put out a bedroom project, but it takes a lot more than that to stand out.
The genre’s most recent star is a singer that goes by the name Gus Dapperton. Dapperton is a New York recording artist whose raspy high-pitched vocals seem to have cut through the noise of mediocrity. Unsigned and self-produced, Dapperton’s first hit came with his pop single I’m Only Snacking, and he hasn’t looked back since. Performing at the Subterranean on Chicago’s West Side, Dapperton was assisted by a minimal band of only a keyboard player, drummer and bassist. Switching between playing guitar and simply singing, he did not disappoint the hungry crowd of bedroom pop connoisseurs as Dapperton’s sister played the shiny synths the genre has defined itself with.
While Dapperton’s charm and flying kicks captured the attention of the audience, his opener Beshken immersed the audience in a thick ocean of sound that left little room to do anything but listen. When he first walked out onto the stage, it was just him, his guitar and his laptop. Yet somehow with only these tools, Beshken’s music had a thickness that seemed to envelop the hearts and ears of the audience. As each song seamlessly transitioned into the next, whenever there was a break in the music it almost came as a shock that such a thing as silence could still exist.
Maybe it was his charisma that filled in the empty sonic space, but looking at the crowd it seemed like it didn’t matter what Dapperton did. They seemed to be simply in awe that someone so similar in age and experience to them had been able to manifest a music career out of the inner workings of a MacBook. Watching him tease the audience with his presence as he allowed the front row to reach out and touch him for the briefest of moments before pulling away, it was like he was experimenting with just how much power he truly had over the audience–something I think any person would be curious about if, over the span of a year, they suddenly had thousands of screaming fans all over the country. Finishing their set with a cover of the Isley Brother’s single Twist and Shout, the cover felt like a promise for more synth-poppy goodness that would be coming our way very soon.
“Sunday night! Up all night! Red wine in my blood tonight!”
This was the mantra of Grapetooth’s album release show on Nov. 11 at Thalia Hall In the Round. Having just dropped their self-titled debut record two days before, the concert’s sold-out status was quite impressive – though not surprising.
Grapetooth is a Chicago duo consisting of Clay Frankel (of Twin Peaks fame) and Chris Bailoni (also known as producer Home-Sick). Their New Wave-inspired sound harkens back to 80s pacemakers such as The Cure and New Order, resulting in infectiously danceable synth melodies.
Their show was part of Thalia Hall’s series In the Round, in which a stage is placed in the middle of the floor, creating an intimate DIY environment. This concept was perfect for Grapetooth, who started out playing rowdy house shows around Chicago.
Openers Sports Boyfriend and Dehd, also local bands, laid a great foundation for the main event. Most notably, Dehd got the crowd moving around with their heavy surf-rock vibes, especially during their last song “Fire of Love.”
Before anyone was ready, Grapetooth cut through the crowd to get on the tiny stage, joined by Cadien James of Twin Peaks on drums and Justin Vittori on bongos and chimes (an interesting role). James and Vittori were dressed in all black except for white bucket hats, whereas Frankel and Bailoni donned camo hooded jumpsuits complete with neon green stripes.The band launched directly into “Violent,” their first single. The crowd immediately went crazy, forcing those directly next to the stage to bend at the waist. Grapetooth’s energy was unmatchable, although the only person who seemed to be consistently playing an instrument was James, the drummer. Bailoni touched the keys occasionally, while Frankel made his way around the stage with his mic. Vittori only seemed to play the bongos during the repetition of the mantra after each song (“Sunday night! Up all night! Red wine in my blood tonight!”), and who knows what those chimes were for. However, it’s possible that – despite my second row spot – I just couldn’t see well enough to know. The crowd was that mobile. Still, it was one of the most fun sets I’ve been to. I felt like a part of something great while getting splashed with red wine during none other than “Red Wine,” not being able to feel my feet during “Blood,” and waving my arms during slow jam “Hallelujah.”
But the best was yet to come. As Frankel announced that it was time for their last song of the night, a realization was felt throughout the audience– they had not yet played “Trouble.” As the first few notes rang out, a crowd-wide consensus resulted in the rushing of the stage by more than half of the concertgoers. Suddenly, I was basically on top of Frankel as he sang the catchy chorus: “Trouble/ Trouble comin’ down/ I don’t mind livin’/ I don’t mind givin’ it up.” As the stage overflowed, people fell off, but found their way right back up again. It was exhilarating.The afterbuzz of Grapetooth’s show stayed with me throughout the rest of the night. Somehow, the shitty pizza I ate afterwards tasted delicious, and as my friends and I got off of the L at Howard, the purple line was miraculously waiting for us.
As Satan’s Satyrs took the stage Wednesday night, the mostly middle-aged crowd filling out the cramped, beer-soaked room at Subterranean seemed largely uninterested. Seeing jackets, shirts, and beanies in support of the main attraction of the night all around me, it was clear that the four-piece would have to earn the crowd’s attention despite their history of collaboration with the fellow Relapse Records signees Windhand.
The lead singer and guitarist Clayton “Claythanas” Burgess chose to sport a leopard print tank and leather jacket, corresponding nicely with his luscious, curly power bangs and a cheetah print Marshall head. The whole band gave off a very Guitar Hero vibe. Songs “Show Me Your Skull” and “Permanent Darkness” flexed their technicality and otherworldly psychic connection to each other, ripping through chunky breakdowns in near-perfect unison without any visual communication with each other. Some diversity was displayed in “(Won’t You Be My) Gravedancer”—best described as a doo-woppy, rhythmic ass-pounding. Fan-favorite “You Know Who” showcased the band’s unique take on 80’s speed-riff metal.
All in all, the Satyrs effectively communicated their stated intentions of exploring the metaphysical realm connecting the lawlessness of biker horror films (such as the band’s titling inspiration Satan’s Sadists), the speed and aggression of 70’s and 80’s American punk rock icons Black Flag, and the psychedelic, doom-infused atmospheric metal produced by the band Electric Wizard (who, in 2014, accepted Burgess into their band after hearing SS’s demo tapes).
My only gripes: they played fast the whole time. Which, I know, is kind of the point. But had they slowed down in certain strategic spots, letting the audience marinate in some of the breakdowns and solos, going for a thicker, goopier vibe, they would do a better job of attracting the sludge and doom crowd we all know and love. They closed out their set with a jarring rendition of “Creepy Teens”, a fitting segue into the cascading hellfire to be produced by Windhand.
Ghostly organ music and the sound of creaking wood set the stage for the spooky shit to come as the three horsemen and one horsewoman who compose Windhand emerged from the mist, carefully inspecting their instruments as if polishing swords in preparation for battle. I thought immediately of the infamous stand at Helm’s Deep. After opening with an absolutely unrelenting delivery of “Fake Pariah”, the band fixed some issues with the mix, giving the audience ample time to brace themselves for what was to come.
The short breaks in between songs, usually filled with small talk, stalling, and jovial banter about the musicians’ careers, politics, and the like instead left the audience treading water in goopy sound soup–probably with some sort of melted cheese on top. It was dense. It was muddy. Anticipation built, and the tension mounted, and just when you thought it would never end, the silence that was actually not a silence at all was snapped, like a diver leaping from the platform, and with perfect form and without producing a splash, Windhand laid into yet another face melter, spewing sparks and lava as they blew through “First to Die” followed by “Forest Clouds”.
They selected randomly throughout their entire discography, which was came as a pleasant surprise seeing as how they released Eternal Return, their fourth full-length studio album, just a month and some change before the show. Mixed in were expertly cascading, feedback-heavy, distorted guitar solos that made prominent use of a wah pedal and felt like avalanches piling onto the crowd. I noticed that lead guitarist Garrett Morris sported a Satan’s Satyrs shirt. G Move. Windhand slid effortlessly into a ¼ speed actuation of “Grey Garden” that then shed its cocoon as if a mummy suddenly come back to life, ripping through centuries old layers of resin-coated linen to reveal a shrieking and angelic guitar solo, sequenced differently than in the studio-version of the song.
Lead singer Dorthia Cottrell’s anguished, groveling voice was met with a performativity I didn’t expect. She wandered around stage in a ghostly trance, gazing out above our heads at something we could not see. Spooky indeed. The set was reminiscent of the atmosphere conveyed by an Edgar Allan Poe poem—simultaneously frantic but pessimistically resigned. Imagine a kerosene-soaked witch at the moment of ignition, but rather than scream or cackle as you might expect, she just sort of sighs.
Often overlooked, drummer Ryan Wolfe consistently laid down light, splashy cymbal work overtop of heavy, even bone-shattering tom and bass rolls, providing a delightfully complex undercurrent to the set—subtext, if you will. This in combination with Morris’s stylistic doom shredding conjured thoughts of ancient mammoths struggling against an eminent wave of hot tar, or maybe a vicious overtaking of an ankylosaurus by a small but battle-hardened pack of deinonychuses.
Windhand has been one of my favorite doom bands as of late, and for good reasons—all of which were reflected in their live show. They are one of the best groups around when it comes to the metered, spaced out riffs that deal mostly in mid-tones but somehow feel sludgier than anything else I’ve ever heard. Their songs all sound the exact same, yet almost completely unrecognizable. Like the same piece of meat cooked in entirely different ways. They can be technical, they can sweep pick, and they can be brutal sounding, like a dark churning ocean as it meets with a jagged, moonlit cliff side, or maggots chewing through a rotting appendage. They’re great to listen to while you read, sketch, ride your bike, dismember a corpse, or fold your laundry, and they’re absolute must-see’s if they’re coming to your town. They made one thing abundantly clear: Don’t sleep on Windhand.
On Friday night, Chicago native Paul Cherry played at a rather unconventional venue — Apple. The Michigan Avenue store, which opened a little over a year ago, hosts artists in a large, open space in front of the tables showcasing its products. People leaned against tables and sat on wooden blocks placed in a semicircle around Cherry and his band.
Cherry opened with “Hello Again,” the first song on his full-length album “Flavour,” which he released at the end of March. The jazzy song was a fitting greeting, as this was Cherry’s first show back in Chicago after a six-week tour.
“It’s pretty fun playing here at the Apple store,” Cherry said after a few songs. “I thought it was gonna be awkward because of the lighting.” With its bright lights, the store, which has two-story-tall glass walls that expose it to the street, seemed like a small haven from the cold and dark.During the performance, a screen behind Cherry and his bandmates projected clips of running water, swimming fish, and people walking across the beach. Cherry broke up his performance by joking between songs, which I thought was amusing, although his audience was largely unresponsive. “Apple store, you still with us?” Cherry asked about halfway through his performance, throwing up his hands. “It’s Friday night, come on! We could be at a bar. We’re at the Genius Bar.”
Cherry’s voice was smooth and clear, just as it is on his album, but what was most impressive about the performance was the use of instruments — both his own guitar technique and the playing of his bandmates. His newer music is an interesting mix of old and new, jazz and pop. Cherry used a loop machine at points, and in addition to more conventional instruments, one of his bandmates played a wind chime and maracas.The band ventured into improvisation during “The Comeback,” when Cherry stepped back to let two of his bandmates take a drum break. One of the drummers played bongos, which fit in surprisingly well with the synths in many of the other songs.
During “Minute,” a fun instrumental song in the middle of “Flavour,” Cherry played slide guitar while the screen behind him showed a snail moving along, followed by a plane ascending in slow motion. The song was the most exaggerated example of Cherry’s dream-like music. It felt like a brief stop in time.
Nostalgia swept through Thalia Hall on Friday night when pop rock band Wild Nothing took the stage. “Throwback! Throwback!” one man shouted when the band began to play “Golden Haze,” from their 2010 EP. Wild Nothing played only a selection of songs from their newest album, “Indigo,” sticking to songs their audience was more familiar with.
The show opened with a set by Men I Trust, a Montreal-based indie pop band. The band’s vocalist, Emma, sang in a raspy whisper, a stark difference from the pleasing, whispery voice on the band’s recorded music. Bassist Jessy carried the performance. He shined on “Lauren,” the band’s 2016 single that has a catchy, twangy bass line.
After waiting a long time between sets, the crowd cheered when singer and guitarist Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing walked on stage. Although Tatum kept the higher part of his range mostly under wraps, he displayed his impressive range in the band’s opener, “Nocturne,” a question-and-answer song. “You wanna know me?” Tatum sang in his falsetto before dropping a couple octaves with the line “I know where to find you.”
The show picked up with “Partners in Motion” when keyboardist Matthew Kallman took his hands off the keys and started playing the saxophone. Kallman is tall and skinny and wore a simple white tank top that made him easy to miss when he was playing keyboard.
“Partners in Motion” was just a tease of Kallman’s abilities, which aren’t displayed on Wild Nothing’s recordings — Tatum does them solo. During “Whenever I,” Kallman’s saxophone playing was so subtle that at first, I thought the saxophone was a woman’s voice. But throughout the song, he gained momentum, climaxing with a strong solo. The crowd went wild for Kallman and cheered when he picked up his saxophone again during “Paradise” and “A Dancing Shell.”
Toward the end of their performance, the band played “Summer Holiday,” a song from Wild Nothing’s first album, “Gemini,” which Tatum introduced by telling the crowd that the band had friends from their days at Virginia Tech in the audience that night. “They’ve been hearing this song before any of it mattered at all,” Tatum said.
Indie-folk staple Gregory Alan Isakov played a lovely, organic show at the Vic on Wednesday. The singer-songwriter is touring in support of Evening Machines, his seventh album, released this past October. Another singer-songwriter opened the night, Haley Heynderickx, a solo act. Her onstage energy was funny and light, even while her songs dug deeper. She writes a good song, with unique, colorful images and intriguing subject matter. “The Bug Collector” is a simple story about finding bugs in an apartment with really interesting images, most notably where she describes a praying mantis as a “priest/ From your past life out to getcha.” “No Face,” another creative song that could stand alone as a poem, showed the strength of her form. A slightly more catchy “Oom Sha La La” was the best, however, with its surface silliness deeply contrasting its more emotional themes. Her set was a great introduction to her as an artist, and she’s definitely one to watch as her resources and exposure increase.
Without too much of a wait after Heynderickx, Isakov and his band took the stage. While Isakov releases under his own name, his band is made up of an eclectic mix of musicians: Jeb Bowes on violin, Phillip Parker on keyboard and cello, Steve Varney on banjo and guitar, Max Barcelo on drums, and John Paul Grigsby on bass (upright and electric), with Isakov himself on lead vocal, rhythm guitar and, briefly, harmonica. The band itself is capable of a diverse range of sound, as many of the musicians pull double duty on different instruments.
Throughout the show they were all able to switch back and forth individually, allowing their sound to cover a spectrum genres, from old-school folk music to modern rock. The sheer mutability was awesome; the nuanced level at which the band was able to alter their sound was impressive and engaging. The constants, and arguably what makes the band so unique, were Isakov’s vocal and Bowes’ violin. Bowes is a well-rounded player, and he filled the gap that would traditionally be plugged with catchy guitar hooks. He changed the whole texture of the music from song to song and made for a classically stunning finish to their well-rounded sound. Isakov’s voice mirrored the smoothness of the strings, and his often-poetic lyrics added another layer of meaning.
The Vic is a beautiful theatre and the stage looked homey with a red rug, scattered globes (which turned out to be lights) and a heavy layer of smoke. The smoke was a great stylistic choice; it caught the vibrant lights used throughout the show for a watercolor-like effect. They opened up with “She Always Takes It Back,” a solid song that highlighted Varney’s banjo skills and set the emotional tone for the night. Isakov’s songs are not exclusively sad, but they evoke a feeling that has a somber color. Even when they picked up the pace and went for a more rock vibe like on “The Empty Northern Hemisphere,” “Chemicals,” and “Berth,” Isakov’s vocals maintained their wistfulness.
Isakov’s onstage presence was calm and authentic, and he took a few moments between songs to tell stories about the writing of some of the songs. Before “Virginia May,” Isakov’s most country-influenced song (old school country music, back when “country” wasn’t a bad word), he described performing the song twelve years ago when he first started touring. He walked away from finishing a horticulture degree, joking “fuck college,” which got a huge laugh from the crowd. These little asides before songs focused on Isakov’s intimacy with his material and made for a wonderfully personal concert experience. He mentioned how it was “the most I’ve ever talked” because he usually “tells strange stories,” but each of his conversational moments opened up the songwriting process for his fans. He described writing “Dark Dark Dark” by taking lists of words from “trashy romance” and sci-fi novels and using them like “magnetic poetry” to write the song, which is one of Isakov’s best in terms of lyrics. He also described the inspiration for “Master and a Hound”–a snowglobe from the San Francisco airport he received as a gift.
He finished the show in an encore where he and the band all shared a circular, vintage style microphone. The whole group surrounding the mic, taking turns singing or soloing into it. This moment made for a sweet image of their group dynamic and was a nod to old-school arrangements where bands themselves had much more interaction. The night was full of intimate, bright moments like this where the audience watched and shared the creative joy of Isakov and his bandmates.