October is a month jam-packed full of bands touring through town with their latest releases. To help you cut through the noise, we’ve put together a list of our concert recommendations for the upcoming week.
Monday, October 23rd: Boris at Thalia Hall
I’ve never seen Boris live, but someone told me they “shred” and it takes something very real to get a total stranger to vouch for you that hard. The Japanese experimental band are decades into their career, and with over twenty-four albums under their belt, it’s pretty impressive that they continue to churn out projects that have staying power in the “drone” circles. For this show, they are celebrating the 25th year of existence and touring their new record Dear, a mix of nostalgia and adventure that is bound to manifest itself pretty intensely in a live setting. 8:00 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport, $20, thaliahallchicago.com
Tuesday, October 24th: Chelsea Wolfe and Youth Code at Metro
It’s the spookiest week of the year, and there’s nothing spookier than the piercing misery that goes into Chelsea Wolfe’s songs. She’s always been on the darker side of gothic chamber rock, but her latest album Hiss Spun is a dismal exercise in purging the psyche only to torment it. It’s also her heaviest, which means she will be performing with a very newfound aggression. Fresh! 8:00 p.m. at Metro, 3730 N Clark Street, $21, metrochicago.com
Wednesday, October 25th: Girlpool at Logan Square Auditorium
Wednesday, folk punk duo Girlpool is descending on Logan Square Auditorium with Philly rockers Palm and local trio Lala Lala in tow. While Girlpool is headlining the event, Wednesday offers a dynamic triple bill with groups spanning from angular rock to dense grunge punk. On tour for most of Fall, guitarist Cleo Tucker and bassist Harmony Tividad of Girlpool are building on the abrasive roots they laid with their debut Before the World Was Big by bringing a drummer into the mix. Powerplant, Girlpool’s sophomore release, offers a more expansive version of the caustic, candid punk for which they’ve become known.
6:30 p.m. at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 North Kedzie Ave; emptybottle.com
Wednesday, October 25th: Making Movies at Schubas Tavern
Making Movies, an American band, is playing their third album I Am Another You, at Schubas on Wednesday, October 25. Based out of Kansas City, MO, the group consists of two sets of brothers. I Am Another You is replete with unique Afro-Latino rhythms and represents a form of protest, featuring the message: We Are All Immigrants. The album has received positive reviews from Remezcla, Clrvynt, and American Songwriter and was listed on NPR’s Alt.Latino “Favorite Music of 2017 (So far).”
8 p.m. at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave; $12, www.lh-st.com
Thursday, October 26th: The Lemon Twigs at Thalia Hall
Long Island sibling duo The Lemon Twigs are bringing their brand of 70s’ rock to Chicago this Thursday. With their most recent EP, Brothers of Destruction, out September 22nd, the D’Addario brothers continue to expand their repertoire of quirky pop with songs that range from smart to saccharine. Still a young band (Michael and Brian D’Addario are 17 and 19, respectively), The Lemon Twigs are sure to light up Thalia Hall Thursday with their signature flair and unbridled energy.
8 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St; $16; thaliahallchicago.com
Thursday, October 26th: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at Schubas Tavern
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is playing her newest album The Kid at Lincoln Hall on Thursday, October 26. Smith integrates mellow vocals into synthesized sounds representing organic processes including rustling leaves and weather. She further used visual aids as a catalyst for her work or creates imagery to match her compositions. Her fifth studio album Ears was received well by the music community, featured in end-of-year album lists by sources including NPR and Norman Records.
8 p.m. at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave; $15; www.lh-st.com
Friday, October 27th: Nai Palm at Lincoln Hall
This Friday, the Melbourne-based band Hiatus Kaiyote’s lead singer Nai Palm will be debuting her solo album, Needle Paw. On this very day, the self-taught composer, instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, and poet will be performing at Lincoln Hall, Chicago along with a special guest, who has yet to be announced. Nai Palm, who championed the world over and musical icons like Questlove, Erykah Badu, Anderson Paak, and the late Prince, will be showcasing her new sound: the end result of a self-imposed challenge to explore immortality and timelessness within music by stripping away production to spotlight what she believes to be the core of the human soul, the voice. Fans can expect extremely honest, beautifully transparent, and complexly vulnerable arrangements of her guitar playing and layered vocals —Homebody and Crossfire/So Into You, the two singles from Needle Paw already out, are exactly that. About the main message behind this album, Nai Palm proclaimed, “I want to remind people that there are humans behind the music. Not just compression and reverb. The urgency for accuracy is not human. The exposed process is human, without the cheat codes.”
8 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln Ave; $25, www.lh-st.com
Saturday, October 28th, Ariel Pink at Thalia Hall
If you’ve thought about Ariel Pink as a presence even a little bit, it’s hard not to have a strong opinion about him. If you’re like me, you’d think the absurdist pop deconstructions that exist in sketch-like forms on albums like the essential Pom Pom or the more recent Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, it must be fascinating to see how his clammy, lo-fi melts into the air in a bright space like Thalia Hall. 8:30 p.m. at Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport, $26.75, thaliahallchicago.com
Sunday, October 29th, A Thrilla Music Festival at Subterranean
Sunday night, a collection of local artists is descending on Subterranean for a night packed with fresh Chicago music. Jean Deaux, R&B singer and collaborator with top-notch talents like Mick Jenkins, Mykki Blanco, and Smino, leads the event, supported by equally as exciting local artists like rapper BIGBODYFIJI and up-and-coming singer Sundé. With a bill that is as deep as it is wide, A Thrilla Music Fest makes for a unique opportunity to see a collection of promising local talent in one place.
7 p.m. at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave; $5-15; www.subt.net
Sunday, October 29th, The Courtneys at Beat Kitchen
Sometimes music is nice. Nice music is nice to hear live. Especially where it’s jangly, it has some twang to it, it’s clearly reaching for some sort of simplistic bliss. It’s a good time, and it sounds an awful lot like what seeing Vancouver ban the Courtneys at Beat Kitchen this Sunday would be like. The singer is the drummer! Wild. 8:30 p.m. at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave, $12, www.beatkitchen.com
This year marked my first experience at the Electric Forest Music Festival. While day one and two didn’t agree with our campsite, (it was rained out and my tent collapsed), the weather did not overshadow the tremendous impact that E-Forest had. The art instillations, musicians, diversity of stages, and beautiful setting made it feel like fiction. Above all, my interactions with artists made it a worthwhile weekend. Among those, our team was given the chance to interview the kingpin of Dirtybird Records, Claude Vonstroke. While starting in San Francisco, Dirtybird has made large waves within the house scene, through Claude’s distinctly funky sound, the famed Dirtybird BBQs, and the label’s rich roster of talented artists. Claude was as friendly as he was brutally honest, within regards to his relatively unexpected career trajectory, emerging projects, and the struggles associated with becoming a fulltime artist while developing a label. Our discussion is below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marc: Cool, well first off man it’s great to meet you. Thanks for speaking with WNUR. I’m originally a Bay Area fan so it’s special for me.
Claude: Cool, thank you.
Marc: So, for our listeners, I’m just going to briefly describe what you do (and your background). You have Dirtybird, which has been very successful, with an exceptional roster of artists from many different countries. From Eats Everything, to Justin Martin, to Nick Monaco for a time, (who is also from SF). You’ve also had the Sirius XM station the Bird House, which I tune into when I drive, and you have the Dirtybird BBQs.
Claude: Right, and now it’s (grown to) a campout festival.
Marc: So setting the stage, you have your fingers in a lot of different areas, as an artist, as a curator.
Claude: And we have the Birdhouse stages.
Marc: Yes, and bringing other artists out using your platform. So I wonder what was it like for you in SF right at the very beginning? Right when you were starting off?
Claude: So I started off in Oakland, and my roommate went to high school with me, and he was kind of a techy guy, nerdy kinda, doing math and stuff. And he taught me how to build PCs. He had taught me over the phone before I moved to Oakland, but then I started really doing it. So I was able to make these really cheap PCs that were really fast. And then we would get all this bootleg software from China and I was able to have a much better rig than I should have. So I made a documentary about how to become a famous… Well not a famous DJ, but how to become a DJ that gets gigs. I interviewed all like the most famous people at that time, so like Paul van Dike, Orbital, Derrick Carter, and Derrick Main.
Marc: I believe Derrick Carter actually used to play at our station. He had a residency.
Claude: Cool that’s awesome! Ya, so I got all these people on it, and I edited it, and directed it, did everything on these bootleg rigs, and then I (chuckle…) ran out of money completely. So I had to make all the music, because you need music to play under the interviews, so we just remade songs that sounded like the people who were on the interviews, and I used some songs from other people as well. But then by the end of it, basically, I knew how to make house music. Then I moved to SF. The whole time I was working in SF, at an editing place, video editing. But I was going out all the time too.
Marc: Damn that’s really interesting, I know SF has a music scene with a lot of culture and history, but it’s not the music central area. It’s not LA or New York…
Claude: So it’s not, I have this thing, like it’s a great place to have a clique. It’s like, really cliquey, and awesome, if you’re in one of the cliques. So I really liked Drum and Bass when I first got there… I could not get into that clique. Like forget it. I’m sure some people say the same thing about us.
Marc: What were some of the venues you went to? I’m just curious?
Claude: Cat Club, eventually they had it at a Pizza Place.
Marc: DNA Lounge?
Claude: No I’m talking about the Drum and Bass Party. They had it at a Pizza place upstairs, then they had it at Cat Club. Ya I went to DNA Lounge, I went to the Top every Wednesday. Justin had his thing there.
Marc: And what year was all this? What was the timeframe?
Marc: Word… DNA Lounge is closing. The owner mentioned it had been there since the first .com boom but that they’ve run out of funding.
Claude: It is? It had a good room. Are they selling it to some giant computer company? It’s not a bad room. I’ve had some good nights in there.
Marc: Good to hear, so you’ve kind of jumped into my next Q which is what it was like as an emerging artist in that area. I was wondering if you had any SF influences based on cultures that inspired you, from the Hyphy movement to funk?
Claude: Ya, I mean I was from Detroit, and if I had done straight Detroit music I don’t think it would have been as eclectic. So there was kind of this extra element of, hippie, slash funny weirdo, like hip-hop head, lower height vibe that got snuck in there.
Marc: That’s awesome. Another question I have, a bunch of our listeners as well as quite a few members of our station are students. Many of us are aspiring artists as well. What advice would you give, or impart to someone who is at the beginning of their career as a musician? Also what is it like starting a label?
Claude: It’s two different kinds of advice. It’s like, be realistic, and be unrealistic (more chuckles…). So be unrealistic but don’t be stupid. The only way that I was able, I’d figured out that I really wanted to do it, so I had to make a plan to do it. Not just like, “I’m just gunna DJ everywhere and smoke a bunch of weed, and hope that something happens.” You have to make a really hardcore plan about where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Even if it seems completely ridiculous just do it anyway. Really like, don’t quit your job from like another six months to a year from when you think you should quit your job. Also get just a tiny stockpile of money, so you can actually survive not getting booked for six months. Do you know what I’m saying?
Claude: Just get a little bit of a nesting before you go full on. That’s good advice. Otherwise you can just burn out, two months. Be like, nahmean, we used to eat mustard sandwiches. Which is just like two pieces of bread with mustard, and sh** like that just to make it. If you get to the mustard sandwiches in the first two months, you’re not gunna be a DJ.
Marc: That’s really useful advice.
Claude: You gotta be able to go a little bit longer than that.
Marc: One thing I wanted to ask as well… I think often using the general umbrella term of House, there’s often not equal representation within both gender and marginalized communities. Which is kind of ironic because House and Techno started from marginalized groups. (Speaking towards gender) I know you have J.Phlip on your roster, and I’m wondering what you think about this issue?
Claude: Ya that’s a very big question. This is something I really also noticed after last year’s Campout. I just looked at the lineup and I was like, “Man, I think we f** up” (laughs around the room…). So now I booked 8 women, and all kinds of people. I just definitely, I’m not gunna have like, this only really (male dominated). I made a concerted effort this year, but I really think, it’s not like you need to try hard. There’s so many good people that it’s pretty easy, you just have to not be an idiot.
Marc: Do you think it’s improving, that there’s more representation now?
Claude: I think that also, a couple people in the higher range of events, like Garry Richards, even though he made a crazy video. He is thinking about it, and booking more women and stuff now. There are a few people that are doing it, and then there are always a few people that don’t give a f**. Just like how life goes forever right?
Marc: So one thing, I saw you at Bonnaroo, and your alter-ego project, which is actually just your name Barclay. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk about how that started?
Claude: That was originally what I wanted to do when I was eleven, was be a rapper. All that stuff was basically from when I was like eleven to fourteen. I had a flap hat, I had a jam box, I wanted to be RUN DMC. It was just like, I was from a different planet. I made up, technically, I said I would never admit that I was actually (from) another planet. But anyway, all that stuff is from my childhood, and I just thought that was what I was gunna do, but I just got really good at making House music… So I just said that I need to go back because that was so fun and interesting, and I just still want to do it.
Marc: So it’s your passion project? That’s really cool. So this is my last Q and then I’ll let you fly, no pun intended. But I was wondering, personally, who illustrates the album covers for Dirtybird because they’re crazy!? The animal morph combinations.
Claude: OK, this is also a passion project of mine. So every year for the last five or six years, we were just doing sh** art, for a long time. Like that little bird that I drew, it was just like, really bad. For someone who likes art I was like, “Uggh why are we doing such bad art”. So I just said why don’t I get all the best people that I can possibly find to do the art. So every year, I hire one person to do all the Dirtybird art, but it’s a different person every year. It’s always low brow pop surrealism, which is my favorite kind of art. It’s always weird as f**. So… this year’s guy his name is Dolk, and he’s from Spain. Last year was Dan May from Michigan, with the fuzzy monsters. The year before that was Rahul Delilo, from the Netherlands, with the combined animals. And then the year before that was Bram Carter, who’s just a really cool illustrator from Brighton, England. So they’re from everywhere.
Marc: Awesome we’ll that was my last question, so to close I just want to say thank you.
Claude: Oh ok perfect (timing).
The Frequency Series began in 2013 as a weekly Sunday night show curated by Peter Margasak at Constellation focusing on Chicago’s burgeoning new music scene. Since that time both the scene and the series have grown and flourished with new venues, musicians and festivals continually popping up throughout Chicago. This year the Frequency Series Festival will take place over six days at three venues and feature the music of seven exciting and important artists in new music. The festival kicks off tonight with Chicago-based music/performance ensemble, Mocrep, at the MCA presenting a program of identity, chaos and translation. Tomorrow night the festival continues at the Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago with Denver contemporary pianist R. Andrew Lee. Thursday thru Sunday Constellation will host the Morton Feldman Players, Bill Orcutt & Austin Wulliman, Olivia Block & Quince, and Ensemble Dal Niente.
It’s an eclectic and well curated mix that in my opinion explores the relationships between performer, ensemble and composer while also presenting a wide scope of both acoustic, electric and mixed new music performance. No venue in my mind, presents consistently well-curated shows like Constellation and the Frequency Series Festival is a logical extension of that. Tickets are available for the individual shows, some are free and you can pick up a pass to all seven shows for only $40. More information on performers, locations and time here.
SATURDAY, BLUE STAGE, 6:45pm
Planet Mu’s Jlin came out the gate swinging with 2015’s invigorating Dark Energy, an eleven-track whirlwind of heavy synths and fast-paced percussion that breathe visceral meaning into the album’s title. The Gary-based RP-Boo mentee has since continued to carve a unique sound and space for herself as one of the few established female producers in the footwork scene (though she’s been producing since 2008).
The anonymity of female producers is inescapable despite Jlin’s feats, as illustrated by my ignorance of her womanhood for an embarrassing number of months after I first listened to Dark Energy, but she’s far from tokenized or humored in the scene. Her music evokes hyper-specific yet undefinable emotions and sensations (some combination of unsettling, thought-provoking, and physically stimulating), drawing on distinctive vocal samples that are both sourced and warped in unprecedented ways. The themes and track titles of her discography allude to a wide array of social and political issues without directly addressing them (or do they?), leaving the listener to marinate and interpret these themes in the absence of Jlin’s music. Her tracks contain a raw power that permeates everything it touches.
The producer’s eclectic catalog includes the unmistakable breathy vocals of fellow Pitchfork artist and experimental composer Holly Herndon on Dark Energy’s “Expand.” Jlin focused her recognizable style with late 2015’s Free Fall EP, adding elements noticeably rave-synthier and more suited for the club. She’ll be sharing a stage with multiple collaborators at this year’s festival, and you won’t want to miss any of them. Here’s to hoping a live collaboration is in store this weekend–perhaps a tri-performance with Holly Herndon and RP Boo? A DJ can dream.
The Year is 2013 and the electro/alternative R&B/dance vibe is arguably at its peak. I am in San Francisco visiting family and friends. It is summer. I’m sitting on a couch with Joe who i do not particularly like nor dislike but I find rather boring. Neither of us is really talking, so I pull out my phone and open my email. A blade of regret sears through my body and I sigh. On my screen is an email for will call tickets for The Range that night, but I decided to go to a dinner party instead. It was a bad dinner party, I later heard from my friend Dennis, who did go, that the Range was great and that the crowd alternatively swayed and danced.
“He brought mellow vibes to the club but still honored the purpose of the club. I bet he would be great at Pitchfork,” my friend Dennis said. Dennis has never led me astray before so I will be at the Blue stage at 7:15 on Saturday expressing myself through dance.
– Ben Shear
Releasing on average a single per year since 2012, it’s unclear whether LUH. is artistically detached or maybe just exceedingly careful. Whatever the case, the singles they do release, such as “Unites” and “l&l”, typically generate quite the buzz. Created by former WU LYF frontman Ellery Roberts, the arrival of LUH. was accompanied on YouTube by what could only be considered a break-up note à la Laura Palmer mixed with some Matrix-level doom, reading, “I am gone. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning.” Since that fateful day, Roberts has gone on to collaborate with visual artist Ebony Hoorn and The Haxan Cloak to create sensitive odes cautiously masked as powerful anthems. LUH.’s debut album, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, marks a sharp divide from their smatterings of past singles, with EDM elements driving the undercurrents rather than their typical guitar fallbacks. Catch them on Saturday at the Blue Stage for what will surely be an emotional dance fest.
– Lauren Ball
Carly Rae Jepsen
The following declaration may shock you: Carly Rae Jepsen is cool. Yes, the chick from “Call Me Maybe” has successfully subverted the mainstream and been embraced in force by hipsters. This transformation is due to the critical success of Jepsen’s third album “ E•MO•TION ,” which was released in June 2015. The album smartly plays off 80s pop tropes with the help of musicians with major indie cred like Dev Hynes (aka fellow Pitchfork performer Blood Orange) and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. The resulting sound is intoxicating and emotionally overwhelming, a pure sonic boost of euphoria. The critical success and “underground” embrace of Carly Rae Jepsen showcases a longing for earnestness, a deviation away from conceptions of apathy as the peak of cool. You can expect to find me in the front row of Carly Rae’s Pitchfork show having a deeply uncool emotional experience—join me.
– Aliza Abarbanel
BONUS: Oneohtrix Point Never
Last time I went to an oPn show I came face to face with the ghost of Earth’s future and witnessed the result of all the technological detritus we leave behind and it was so beautiful that I fainted. Really a special artist at the peak of his game. And the visuals are not to be missed.
– Ben Shear
FRIDAY, BLUE STAGE, 5:15pm
Click this. Now look at me.
There’s a certain kind of sound that is avoided when a musician forgoes formal training. It’s a sound of tired melodies, recycled structures, trite lyrics. Too many proficient musicians box themselves in to produce derivative works, while others put forth great effort to unlearn their conventions and perfected techniques so that they may explore musical space for themselves. We respect them for it. Their work stands out.
Moses Sumney is one of these artists. Self-taught in the guitar, and often self-recorded with looper pedals, his singles released this past year have been inventive and caught the ears of those craving new sound to break into. A beautiful voice adds to the experience, and Sumney puts it up front on all his tracks.
In interviews, Sumney reveals a career built as much on listening as performing. He discusses strong influences from Amy Winehouse in nearly all of his interviews, and from his miraculous O Superman cover, which was improvised live, one can gather that he’s listened to a fair amount Laurie Anderson as well.
On Friday, Moses Sumney will be among the first acts to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival. Unless a lot has changed in the past week, he will wield guitar and mic and not much else to create a unique and raw artistic experience just for you. Dip out of work early and be there.
SATURDAY, GREEN STAGE, 1pm
I do not speak french, nor am I particularly good at intuiting french pronunciations, so when I see this band name I think “circus du Sux.” Turns out that is not the case and the French pronounce “Yeux” like “You” but with a french accent, and Haley Fohr, the mastermind behind Circuit des Yeux, pronounces “Circuit” the way it is pronounced in American English (sir-cut). So what we have is this band whose name sounds like “Circuit du You” and if “Yeux” means “eye,” which it does, then we have a band whose name sounds like a connective route to YOU, specifies a connective route to the phenomenal (sight) and suggests a connective route to the I. And circuits always connect.
The music of Circuit des Yeux does not swerve from its own lane because it does not have to. Fohr and her cast of music makers keep the pedal to the metal on this metaphysical roadtrip, stopping to rest in the pleasant meadows of hushed fingerpicked guitar, treading with caution through dark, dark forests where by some act of black magic the wind in the trees sound like bassy drones that layer until they are monolithic, and hauling ass down the intergalactic psychedelic highway as Fohr, white knuckling the steering wheel, opens her throat and channels the spirit of a long gone alien eulogizing it’s planet. This planet that used to be a fact, a home, a collection of ten million songs. Now all that remains is this mournful voice and its host, driving through the dark. I imagine the car is otherwise silent.
All the while they circle this turnstile called “Folk”, centrifugal force pulling them closer and closer with each rotation until the connections between YOU and I and THE REST disappear due to inutility and YOU and I and THE REST are around a campfire passing around an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and experiencing a sense of communion.
In conclusion, “circus du Sux” more like, “circus du ROX!”
SATURDAY, RED STAGE, 3:20
If the fact that Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler named Digable Planets after reading through works by Jorge Luis Borges doesn’t convince you to see them at Red Stage on Saturday afternoon, I don’t know what will. After releasing just two albums since 1993 and disbanding in 1994, the Planets are back together after a quarter of a century hiatus for a momentous summer tour. The Brooklyn-based jazz/hip-hop trio (who certainly deserve all of the overtly sensational hype they can possibly amass) are especially relevant this year, as their tracks typically carry politically-charged messages such as a celebration of black power on “Jettin’” and a woman’s right to choose on “La Femme Fetal.” There’s a good chance that this will be Digable Planet’s last tour as Butler has since dedicated most of his musical energy towards his new project, Shabazz Palaces, so be sure to catch this integral part of hip-hop history before they’re just that.
WNUR and Pitchfork have at least two things in common. We’re longstanding media outlets based in Chicago, and we’re both regularly accused of being pretentious music snobs (a decade later, we still hear you, Jason Bolicki). The partial validity of this criticism (depending on your perspective) is beside the point: the fact remains that our organizations have earned this reputation by exposing and booking artists who typically aren’t being heard elsewhere in the Chicagoland area. Of course, we have our occasional qualms with Pitchfork’s reviews like anyone else–and I’m sure they’d have a thing or two to say about our programming. But when it comes to Chicago music festivals, Pitchfork is leagues beyond any other in supporting musicians who align with WNUR’s mission and have seen regular airplay on our station across the genre-spectrum (though Big Ears still takes the cake on a national level). This year, we’re embracing that commonality more than ever.
Does this mean we’ll start celebrating and/or playing Carly Rae Jepsen on our station? No, but we will give you a rundown on the artists we’re most excited to see at the festival in two weeks, and why we think they deserve the shine. Keep an eye on our website in the days leading up to Pitchfork as we give individual, in-depth assessments of some of this year’s performers (and listen to WNUR this week for your final chance to win passes to #P4Kfest).
Kamasi Washington seems an almost-obligatory place to start this preview; this guy has been everywhere in the past year. First, he was part of the studio band that performed on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Then, his aptly-named, three-hour debut album The Epic dropped on Brainfeeder in May 2015, earning an 8.6 and “Best New Music” classification on Pitchfork. All of this was preceded by a lengthy career touring and collaborating with established artists like Lamar and Snoop Dogg–but his momentum has only snowballed in the past six months. Some of our staff first got a taste of his (or should I say, his group’s) live performance at Big Ears in April. I caught them again at an overpriced-though-worth-it 2AM after-show in New Orleans post-Jazz Fest, so this set will be my third time around.
This collection of musicians is comprised of childhood friends from the LA area (as you’ll learn during their performance, unless they change things up; there was a fair amount of repetition in the banter and format of the performances I’ve seen). It quickly becomes evident that their performances are more about the group than they are about Washington himself–the collective spent a year dedicating all their time to recording and playing on each other’s projects, and the group mentality that results is palpable. The buzz is credited to Washington because his album was the first to be released (and likely also, of course, because of his involvement in TPAB), but they’re still sitting on the rest of the musicians’ projects. That knowledge puts things in perspective: though he’s undoubtedly talented, Washington’s live saxophone-playing isn’t really what makes the show something special. The dynamic between the musicians is paramount, and the key lies in Washington’s recognition and mediation of that. He’s generous with sharing the spotlight on the stage, and he exudes a warmth and calm in his demeanor that structures the entire experience–and makes it into a just that, a genuine experience. He brings out his dad (who turns out to be pretty killin’ on the flute and clarinet) for the better half of the performance, which proves both endearing and impressive while adding to the familial vibe. Add in two (yes, two) exceptional drummers and a funky keytarist and you’ve got something undoubtedly unique. Keep an eye on the bassist, Miles Mosley, who manipulates an upright in ways you’ve likely never seen (or even considered). And in the meantime, give a listen to “Re Run Home” and “Final Thought.”