This is the second part of a two-part article. You can find the first part here.
Additonally, all of the videos we produced to go along with this piece can be found on our YouTube page, as well as the individual links found below, as we come across these artists in the wild.
I began my day at Shiner’s Saloon in downtown Austin. The cozy “family” bar was dark, lit mostly by a row of windows behind the stage and a neon Shiner beer sign.
The first band to play was The Golden Fleece: a psychedelic rock band from Peoria, IL. Their set began with a plague of sound issues that were quickly corrected. By the third song, the band was at full swing.
The drummer beat the absolute shit out of his kit, displaying a level of confidence easily matched by his bandmates. Characteristic of 70’s era psych rock swagger, the Fleece were masters of changing the pace. Meandering psychedelic melodies gave way to frenzied guitar solos, expertly sprinkled with moments of pregnant silence.
Being Peoria natives, the Fleece will likely present plenty of opportunities to experience them live. If you just can’t wait, they do have a new record, Mind Mirror, set to be released this April. The band is selling presale-edition vinyls at their merch tables on tour, as well as online.
Fans of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and anything in-between will appreciate tracks, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” and “Crowd,” the former of which being from their debut EP Kill the Time, the latter a single from the forthcoming LP.
Next to take the stage was a band that hails from even closer to home. Deeper is a Chicago-based quartet that toes the line between post-punk, emo, and something else altogether. Pitchfork compared them to Deerhunter last summer, and while I never made that connection myself, similarities are there.
The band was pretty subdued in terms of their performance, shoegazing the day away. Shiraz, the drummer, was celebrating his birthday, and played exceptionally well. His frenzied pace-making shook the floor of the small venue and set a rigid backbone for his three bandmates to lean on. Guitar/vocalist Nic Gohl’s voice was tinged with urgency, lending an almost emo-band quality to the music.
The guys were very matter-of-fact about the show, played their forty minutes and made way for the next group to set up. I expected more ego from a band with opening credits for bands like Whitney, Ne-Hi, and more. I’d point you to their self-titled album, but their 2018 Audiotree Live session is too good to pass up and is readily available on Spotify.
I fought my way through the sea of people on Sixth Street to BD Riley’s Irish Pub in time to catch yet another local group, The Curls. Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will appreciate that these guys looked like the McPoyle clan with instruments. Their concept was reminiscent of Dead & Co., but their sound carried more of a funk influence. They’re hard to pin down. Maybe that’s why nobody quite knows how to describe them online. They describe themselves on Facebook as “art funk/piss jazz.” So there you have it.
The set was goofy from start to finish. After the first song, vocalist Mick asked the stage manager how much time they had left. He responded to her look of confusion by saying, “Alright cool, we’ll just play the rest of the songs we had planned to play then.” The second half of the set saw Mick not-so-politely ask the crowd for sponsorship/endorsement deals.
Despite the fun and games, the band was musically solid. They would change time signatures and chord sequences seemingly without warning or hesitation, making for a unique-to-them sound. You can catch The Curls at Sleeping Village on April 23rd and check out their music online anytime! I recommend singles “Bad Boi,” “Tidal Wave,” and “Prickly Feelings.”
From Denton, Texas, the self-labeled “suburban rock” group Sad Cops took to the stage behind the Mariott hotel. These guys were definitely the youngest group I met at South By, but it didn’t show. More on that later. The project is a 5 piece that I would label Midwestern emo/math rock, reminiscent of bands like American Football, Mineral, The Hotelier or Tiny Moving Parts. They’re a prolific young band, producing two EP’s, a single, and an album since 2015—all while still in high school.
“You can tell we’re a DIY band because none of our pedal boards ever work,” said lead singer Grayson Harris, troubleshooting his gear between the first and second songs of the set. The performance was full of banter, back and forth between the group. Paired with a technically solid musical performance, this easy confidence sold the band as seasoned industry veterans rather than punk kids from the Texas suburbs. Harris followed this comment by saying, “We didn’t know these sets were forty minutes… we usually play house parties and most people can only stand us for twenty at most.” As cliché as it may sound, I was reminded of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special… “What are they, tuning a harp back there?”
Speaking of DIY, Harris also pointed out a friend in the crowd who had shot the music video for the band’s most-popular-by-far single, “Honey.” Check that out on YouTube, or head over to Spotify and listen to singles “Numb Hand” and “Best Friends.” Sad Cops was impressive on a number of fronts; rest assured, we’ll be hearing the name again.
Replacing Sad Cops on the Mariott’s backyard stage was Spanish-language band Tribes from El Paso, Texas. I met Mike, who I would later learn is the band’s founder and guitarrón player, before Tribes went on. We talked about math rock and jazz and funk metal and everything under the musical sun, highlighting cross-genres and creative sources of influence, as well as lamenting the struggles of academic performing arts. I stuck around to see what Mike had promised to be an electrifying Mariachi-rock set. He wasn’t wrong.
I’ve seen plenty of mariachi music and had more or less written it off as another culture’s homogeneous-sounding folk music (like polka, or hick hop…) and never paid it the individual attention it deserves. Tribes was a pleasant surprise. The band played beautifully. They managed to make three strings players (vihuela, guitarrón, and guitar), two trumpeters, a drummer, a violinist, and a singer sound uncomplicated, synergetic, and uncluttered. Gisselle Lopez supplied powerhouse vocals to contend with any singer out there.
Music video and vinyl accompaniments for their single “Night Future” are available now, the former on YouTube and Facebook: @tribestx
If you’ve read any of these articles, you know about my British Music Embassy fetish. I went almost every day, I just couldn’t stay away. This time, I showed up at Latitude 30 early, eager to get a good photo spot for The Blinders: an alt-rock band from Doncaster. The band has been together since 2015—since their founding they’ve released seven singles, an EP, and a full-length album. Their Facebook page proclaims that their influences range from Dylan and Lennon, to Mark E Smith, to Kerouac and Rimbaud, predictably Orwell and S.Borroughs, and even Manson and The Devil. In a 2016 interview with Clash Music, the band referred to their sound as “A spellbinding punkadelic-esque Roman orgy.”
Their music stands for itself; nothing I can say here will do it any justice. You need to listen for yourself. I can, however, describe their performance as best I can in so many words. They started strong, killing all of the lights and blasting “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) over the venue’s loudspeakers. The three-piece leapt on-stage, and they did so in style. Bass player Charlie McGough sported a sparkly pinstripe shirt and suit. He likes to out-dress his audience. Matty Neale, drummer-extraordinaire, kept it casual while Thomas Haywood, the group’s lead singer/guitarist and frontman, emerged with his shirt unbuttoned and his face painted up Skyrim style. Non-gamers, think Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, but more culturally sensitive.
They gave an all-over-the-place show, clearly influenced by the hayday of 80’s British rock groups. McGough would plant a foot on a stage monitor and headbang while Haywood would give the back of the house a thousand-yard stare, just over the heads of the audience, while sort of squat-crawling with his guitar slung back and microphone in hand. It was loud and big and sweaty rock n’ roll.
The Blinders were one of the bands I was most excited to see, and for good reason. The band is presently touring, but unfortunately doesn’t have any US dates planned. Check out their debut album, Colombia, specifically singles “L’etat C’est Moi,” “I Can’t Breathe Blues,” and “Free the Slave.”
Friday night was the night of Arlyn Studios’ Homecoming Party. Since opening in 1984, Arlyn Studios has worked with some of the best musical acts in the world: Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Frank Ocean, Hillary Duff, Phish, Sublime, and even Willie Nelson and Waka Flocka Flame. They’ve amassed a mindboggling portfolio and have had a hand in some of the most successful recording projects of all time. Almost the entire building was open for the public to meander through, though it was too crowded to do so easily.
After peeking my head into one of three state-of-the-art booths and nerding out for a second, I began the upstream battle to get as near as possible to the recording-studio-turned-stage. Canada-born and now Austin-based sleaze rockers Kevin McKeown (guitar and vocals) and Eric Owen (drums) swaggered out of the back room and were met with the correct (read: absurd) amount of whooping and screaming from the crowd.
The duo lit straight into it, Owen beating his drums within an inch of life, McKeown planting off of the kit and showing off his high kicks. Music journalists have described these guys as high octane before, but that word fails to encapsulate the glory… It’s like these guys had killed a six-pack of Redbull each and had Guitar Hero’s star-power mode activated for the entirety of their set.
The hip 35-year-olds were packed in like sardines. I saw a shorter woman whose feet couldn’t reach the ground, pinned between the shoulders of her bearded friends in suspended animation, unable to find any purchase amidst the stream of writhing people. I found some random amp to stand on (reminder, this is happening in a functioning commercial recording studio) and was able to get a few shots of the band, but my plane of vision was mostly obscured.
Black Pistol Fire came to melt faces that night, like they do every night. The band is in the midst of a US tour, with a mid-May stop at Metro in Chicago. You’ll wanna be there; I know I will be. The band hasn’t released an album since 2017, but with a recent single, “Black Halo,”, we might soon be in for a treat.
After hauling ass across downtown Austin on a Bird (super cheap rental electric scooter things—a Capitalist Plague, but admittedly sort of fun) and narrowly escaping certain death, I entered The Velveeta Room. The venue was predictably a weird spot. One wall was lined with mirrors and neon, the other with a strange assortment of murals, including but not limited to: a can of EZ-cheese, a lava lamp, a can of spam, and a scene from an unidentifiable 50’s era comic book with a cigarette smoking alligator man.
Magic Potion, a fuzz-pop/psychedelic slacker-rock four-piece hailing from Stockholm, took the stage under a dreamlike canopy of pastel-colored china balls. The surreal venue and stage were a nice pairing for the laid back, psychedelia-tinged sound for which the band is beginning to garner a reputation. Rounding the corner of the stage to shoot from some different angles, I noticed the drummer was pounding away in his socks. The rest of the band gave a fairly subdued performance but managed to avoid looking like mannequins—tough to do when shoegazing.
Magic Potion’s “Rest Yr Skull,” a single from their 2018 sophomore album Endless Graffiti contains a 10-15 second segment that is my favorite 10-15 segment of any song out right now. Call it an earworm, I don’t know. I just know I can’t get “Maharishi my maaaaan…” out of my head, no matter what I try. It’s got to be something about the wafting, idyllic vocals that seem to come from decades-old recordings (similar to the feeling I get from Ohtis). Or maybe it’s attributable to the guitar tracking that delicately toes the line between laziness and scalping angularity. Either way, these Swedes are doing something special. Settle for checking out Endless Graffiti on Spotify or Bandcamp, as the band has no public US travel plans anytime soon.
Southern California’s indie quintet Private Island took over BD Riley’s Irish Pub that night: the night before St. Patty’s, no less. They’ve been promoting their own brand of retro-funk infused rock for the better part of a decade, releasing A Good Look in 2014. The five-song project, technically labeled a single, contained their two most popular singles to date, in “Dissolve” and “Bear Hands.” Their sound draws many comparisons, from slenderbodies to Del Water Gap to Young the Giant, and even Kings of Leon (for the top-40 normies out there).
The band gave a great performance, leaning more heavily on their funk influences than is evident in their recorded works. In fact, the first song of their set was a jam-style funk cover that they explored for over five mins. They were well received by the crowd, who seemed at least somewhat familiar with their more popular songs. This was their last of three shows this South By, and they voiced their love for the festival and the city of Austin in general.
The cascading, feel good power behind songs like “Drugs,” “Bear Hands,” and “Tito’s Grand Adventure” garnered favorable reactions from the mostly innocuous crowd. The announcement of the title of “Tito’s…” was met with a, “Hey I love Titos!” from the back of the bar. I don’t know if that’s funny.
The band closed the set with “Pillow Case,” a single from their forthcoming album, 5xx set to be released April 23rd of this year. “Pillow Case” is unavailable online, and the band didn’t state any intention to release it ahead of the full album, nor do they have any tour dates posted online at the time of this article’s writing, but I expect a promoting tour announcement soon, what with the late-April album release.
Aussie duet The Gooch Palms followed Private Island for a goofy set at BD Riley’s. The “Antipodean party machine” consisting of Leroy and Kat tore Austin a new one, flying through a DIY garage-punk discography oft-compared to Pist Idiots, The Pinheads, Mini Skirt, and Lunatics on Pogosticks. The band has been active since 2011 and are getting back in the swing of touring after a new deal with Ratbag Records attached to a third studio album.
Combining catchy shout vocals, grumbling, throaty guitar licks, and simple time-keeping drum beats with an absurdist stage presence, “The Goochies” are a fun live act to witness. The night I saw them, Kat sported the same sweater she wore in the “Are We Wasted?” music video. Leroy dazzled us with a leopard print blouse and a too-big fake chain and keep-you-honest compression shorts. The minimally-geared twosome looked and felt more at home on the small stage than some of the larger bands who had occupied it beforehand (cough cough, The Curls).
They’re currently touring the US with almost twenty dates between now and the end of April, though this article won’t be published in time to alert people of their Chicago stop at the Empty Bottle. Recent singles to check out: “Marfa Lights,” “Summertime,” and “Busy Bleeding.”
After an interview with the British dream-pop duet that you can catch here, Ellise and I caught a Her’s set underneath the pink parachute at Cheer Up Charlie’s. The two arrived from Liverpool to play their second South By, kicking off their first “full” US tour, with nineteen dates. They bathed a large afternoon crowd in a haze of spectral dream-wave bliss and paired it with a relaxed and friendly stage presence.
Vocalist Stephen Fitzpatrick was fighting a “Texas flu” that other bands had mentioned as well, but the rasp was a welcome addition to the warm, psychedelic fuzz waves emanating from the stage. Between the two real humans and the life-size cutout of James Bond tasked with manning the drum machine, the crowd was treated to a show. They made it sexy.
Any listener could easily tell that the two share a genuine love of the craft. “All we wanna see is that little crease in the side of the mouth, that’s enough for us. Don’t even pay us… ever!” Norwegian bassist Audun Laading exclaimed.
Her’s was a band on the rise, making waves within an already-hot genre. “Cool With You” from their 2017 debut album and “Under Wraps” from their more recent 2018 release are personal recommendations. 2016’s “What Once Was” was also a Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd favorite.
Just a week and a half after our interview with the band, they were involved in a fatal head-on collision while traveling from Phoenix to California. This tragedy was caused by a wrong-way driver on the interstate. The crash left no survivors. Stephen and Audun were warm, inviting, and charismatic individuals, aside from being amazing musicians. They made the world a better place in their short-lived lives, and we love and appreciate their memory.
Aussie psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets—or is it the Psychedelic Prawn Trumpets? —took the stage in Radio Milk’s Austin backyard Saturday night for what would prove to be a gut-churning monster of a set. “We didn’t know if you’d approve of this type fing,” frontman Jack McEwan said jokingly after wrapping up the first song. The crowd loved them.
I’ve followed the Porn Crumpets closely since 2016’s release of High Visceral, Pt. 1. After the mid-January release of the single “Keen for Kick On’s,” I expected the band to be blazing a fire-spitting, face-melting psychedelic trail across the radio charts, but they have yet to surpass a quarter of a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
I exited the backyard venue and went around behind the stage to get a fresh angle, reached high overhead with my camera, and was spotted by McEwan who laughed and gave me a thumbs up. My heart set aflutter! They forged through the rest of their set in characteristic blinding-hot, psychedelia-tinged hard rock.
Now is your chance to “get it while it’s hot,” because these guys won’t wait around. They orchestrated and headlined “Dr. Noggin Floggin & the Liquid Friends Festival” this past December and were met with great success. With tour plans to the UK and EU in a few months and aforementioned recent single release, you have to wonder if there’s more in the works from the active Aussies. Check them out on Spotify.
Another of our interviewee’s, Del Water Gap, played his and my last official set of South By at Seven Grand on Saturday night. He took the stage to beautiful purple and teal split lighting, with mounted deer heads standing guard behind him. Guess that’s Texas for you.
Holden played a solid set, traipsing gracefully through 5+ years of releases, culminating in his announcement of an upcoming April record. His songwriting was highlighted in singles “High Tops,” and, his latest release, “Chastain.” I won’t ramble on here, as you can watch our full conversation with Holden here.
I will say, however, that my overpriced Lyft ride home that night was bittersweet. With Holden’s silken voice and thoughtful prose ringing in my mind, it was all over. South By Southwest was a blur, and more fun than I ever could have imagined. If you’ve read this far, that much should be obvious (and thanks for scrolling!). But there’s always another festival around the corner—more people to meet and more fun to be had. Back to Evanston and Spring Quarter and back to real life.
The Sunday just before Reading Week, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas for the 32nd iteration of South by Southwest—a Cerberus of a festival with Film, Interactive, and Music components, spanning ten days. Music was scheduled for the last 7 days of the festival, and that’s where I come in. After months of researching and emailing, I had my schedule picked out and interviews booked. What follows is a recap, as concise as I could make it. I’m including links to our YouTube page, where we post artist interviews, and a Spotify “best of” playlist, chosen from sets I saw or interviews I conducted (some of the tunes had yet to be released). I’ll also link to individual interviews as we come across the artists in the wild, so stay tuned!
I showed up in Austin and made my way over to Hotel Vegas—what I would later learn to be one of the weirdest venues in the already weird city. After waiting in line for longer than I would have liked to, I was allowed into the crowded back yard and made my way to one of the venue’s four stages, hoping I was at the right one. A standup comic kept the crowd at bay while the band finished setting up, with insightful and witty commentary on life’s everyday ailments—like failing to impress your dad with your promiscuity and the annoyance of Buddhist, cum-eating ants.
(Thee) Oh Sees themselves put on an absolutely wild show. The parentheses denote the fact that the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees now goes by simply Oh Sees. The band was all over the place, seemingly playing at 2x speed (so maybe 8x the speed of any other band). People weren’t just crowd surfing, they were fighting their way to the front so that they could plant their feet on the rails and backflip on to the rest of the writhing crowd. It was insane. The music was predictably great, thanks to (Thee) Oh Sees eclectic blend of surfer rock and post-punk-psychedelia, led by John Dwyer’s raspy vocals, high pitched “woo’s” and cargo-shorted crazy legs.
If you don’t know (Thee) Oh Sees sound by now, you have no excuse. Crack open another ice-cold YouTube tab and revisit this article in half an hour or so. Their latest release is Smote Reverser, but I’d personally recommend 2017’s Orc, or their early 2017 performance on KEXP.
I arrived at the next venue on my list (Mohawk) a bit early and was able to catch the tail end of a Priests show. One thing I liked about SXSW was its pub crawl vibe. Most venues are a 15-minute walk apart at most.
After spending what felt like forever on sound check, Deerhunter took the stage. The synth-rock band (who describe their sound as “ambient punk”) began bathing the crowd in shoegaze’s characteristic swelly and distorted guitars, simplistic drum beats, and ethereal synths. Cover Me Slowly was a clear crowd favorite. Bradford Cox was a vocal powerhouse.
The bar/venue itself put on an amazing light show, and the band sounded great. They had a weird stadium thing going on, with a tiered upper level extending two or three staggered layers above the ground. Part of the upper deck wrapped around the stage, so if you were lucky, you could stand almost directly over the band—although when it’s as slammed as it was pretty much the entire time that South By was happening, it’s enough of a challenge even getting in the front door.
The venue Latitude 30 partnered up with the Department of International Trade (wtf, right?) to present the British Music Embassy’s showcase this year. Acts of all genres from all over England were highlighted. I went there to see King Nun (“Hung Around”, “Chinese Medicine”) and was surprised to see a different band start setting up. They were banging all around, dropping a bass guitar and knocking mic stands over.
My pessimism was up-ended, however, by the first song. Brighton’s hardest dream-pop band, Thyla, was playing like they had something to prove. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a tight band, playing like they had some experience. They were sort of poppy-sounding but would dive into heavier channels from time to time, rounding out their sound. They played as if they shared the same brain, some British musical superorganism making an effort to prove itself.
They played a few songs from their newest release and first EP, What’s On Your Mind, a five-track with only two fresh songs. You might like Thyla if you like The Ninth Wave, Speilbergs, or Sports Team.
I arrived at the Historic Scoot Inn exactly 24 hours early than I had intended to, or so I was told by the guy working the gate when I asked if Slow Pulp would be starting soon. I had nothing else planned for that time slot, so I stuck around to see what was up. And again, I was pleasantly surprised by a band I hadn’t intended to see!
Pink Sweat$ emerged in a Naruto shirt and, you guessed it, pink sweats. He was accompanied only by NYC guitarist (and apparently LGBTQ+ activist, as my inbox was keen to inform me) Daisy. They engaged the crowd in a laid back, chilled out, and stripped-down R&B set, with a hearty blues backbone. Daisy laid down tight, consistent chord patterns, that sounded fresh but familiar, occasionally barking out a bluesy solo phrase or two.
Pink Sweat$ voice is an absolute angelic powerhouse. Paired with a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to see how the young musician has so quickly amassed a sizable following, with his first release coming in 2018 and already accruing over three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. His latest release, Volume 2, is another five-tracker: three of which he performed live. Side note, whoever runs his branding is killing it, all of his cover art is both interesting and thematically consistent. At any rate, he’s taking off at a breakneck pace. Check him out.
This quick backyard set at Icenhauer’s bar still feels like it didn’t happen. I’ve been head over heels for Trudy and the Romance since their 2016 single “He Sings” was released. By some stroke of luck or divine intervention, I was able to see their first set in the US in a weird little bar backyard with plasticky fake grass and an ugly wooden fence.
“We’re called Trudy and the Romance… Trudy like the girls’ name—Trudy—and the Romance, like love—not the Romans. Romance.” And then it was happening. The “50’s Mutant-Pop” foursome was ripping through their set-list at an unsustainable pace. They looked the part, sporting oversized dress shirts, clashing patterns, and stringing their Jazzmasters well above the waist.
Oliver Taylor, frontman and vocalist for the band, was crooning from all parts of the stage, dancing in a way I can compare only to Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. It was otherworldly, or at least other-time-ly. If you’re hot dog on your internet culture, the entire set was personified in The Aristocats dancing gifs you see floating around. The set list covered their entire discography, and the crowd was there for it.
The band wrapped things up, “Thank you so much for watching, we’re Trudy like the girls’ name and the Romance like the love, thanks,” and announced their debut studio LP, Sandman, set to release on May 24th. Just less than a week ago, they released a music video accompaniment for the song “Doghouse,” from the Sandman album to come. My words do no justice to their vibe. Listen for yourself—you won’t regret it.
Next up, I popped over to Edwin’s Sports Bar, home of New Dutch Wave’s SXSW showcase, to catch Iguana Death Cult. Iguana Death Cult is a four-piece new wave/post-punk outfit from Rotterdam, but they’re hard to pin down in just one sentence. The first song they played, for example, showed very obviously punk influence. The following song included polka-inspired bass lines and moved at a more rockabilly canter. Think Violent Femmes in their versatility.
Their stage performance was electrifying, and definitely a sight to behold. It may have been too much, even, for the unsuspecting crowd, as everyone seemed to keep their distance from the stage. “Come on, I know I spit a little but I’m not contagious,” frontman Jeroen Reek pleaded, “come join us at the front for a dance!” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose, because after that gentle prodding, the crowd dove in head first and started dancing and thrashing around to the music.
This is the power chord band. They sing songs with 30 second sections of the same word yelled over and over. They come complete with a shirtless bass player with three oddly spaced black and gray arm tattoos. They run in place and shout at the mics. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re fun. If you like the Talking Heads, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Interpol, or DEVO, you may want to check these guys out.
I caught the last show of the night at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, a laid back local venue with an extremely small, raised wooden stage. The bar felt very homey but was a challenge to navigate due to high top tables and chairs strewn all around the place. What wasn’t seated space was standing room. This made it tough to get around, but looking past that, the venue was quite intimate, and allowed the band to feel like they were right in your face.
The California-based group Spooky Mansion took the stage and wouldn’t be deterred by the limited elbow room. The four-piece played a funky, synth infused surf rock set, complimented nicely by lead singer and experienced house-sitter Grayson Converse’s unique voice and flamboyant performance. Their music will sit well with fans of Paul Cherry, Ceramic Animal, Trudy and the Romance, and lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.
The band reposted ~without tagging; credit the artist please and thank you~ the video from my Instagram story of Converse’s absurd dance moves with the caption, “hips n nips, baby!” thereby confirming alleged ties between the upcoming group and Rickety Cricket’s management team. But seriously, this is a great band that I was lucky to catch before they blew up. Their latest release, a single entitled “Brink of Death” was released early last October, so keep your eyes peeled for new projects on the horizon.
This time, arriving at the Historic Scoot Inn, I was in the right place at the right time—more so than I ever would have guessed when leaving my Airbnb that morning. Not only would I meet Wisconsin-born and Chicago-based four-piece Slow Pulp, but I would do so while eating crawfish. I f *cking love crawfish and these were shining examples of the delicacy.
The laid-back, backyard honky tonk vibe of the Scoot Inn stood in stark juxtaposition to the dream-punk sound cultivated by the foursome, but made for a homey show. At first, it felt like they were playing someone’s lakehouse party, and we (the crowd and myself) were there to soak up the sun, and oh yeah, there’s music. But just one or two songs into their set, the vibe changed. People were standing, dancing, and encroaching on the lonely-looking stage.
Emily Massey’s too-sweet voice drifted in and out of the warped melodies and crisp drum beats created by the band, who played a solid set, pulling from the entirety of their young band’s discography. Their latest release, “Steel Birds,” and “Preoccupied,” from their 2017 release EP2, were clear crowd favorites.
The band kicks off a quick summer tour with esteemed colleagues Remo Drive on May 31st, with a hometown show at Bottom Lounge. It should go without saying, but that’s a show you shouldn’t miss.
After a short food truck intermission, I made my way over to Hotel Vegas’s Volstead stage, indoors. What a weird spot. It felt like a bad acid trip set to interiors from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There was ugly pattern wallpaper, mismatched chandeliers, roughly double the acceptable amount of wood paneling, and a tapir (?) head mounted to the back wall. That being said, the set started right at sunset, and the light spilling through the doorway was breathtaking.
The band was set and ready to go, utilizing a very minimal setup. The drummer’s kit was comprised of only a drum pad, a tom, and a single kick drum. There was a lap steel, glossily strung through a pedal or two. And then there was the cat-gut playing, and smooth crooning Sam Swinson. His antique voice was perfect accoutrements to the weirdo Western sailor parlor amalgamation of stuff that was the Volstead stage.
Ohtis has existed as a band for more than a decade, but has struggled with various ailments throughout its entire existence. Addiction, rehab, and relocation behind them, the group has truly found their voice, making dark-folk Americana tunes with just a hint of country twang and a healthy dose of lessons hard-learned. The band has just released a short film inspired by their single, “Runnin’,” and has announced an official end-of-March release date for their debut studio album, Curve of Earth. Ohtis is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They bare their souls and don’t hide nothing from nobody. Just don’t listen with the expectation of unsubstantiated radio fluff. Listen to singles “Runnin’” (and watch the short film!) and “Pervert Blood” in anticipation of their new LP!
Returning to the British Music Embassy showcase at Latitude 30, I was excited to see a band I’d only recently discovered on Fender’s YouTube channel, playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018. I had done some preliminary Spotify research as well, but entered the venue with a largely open mind. Their live sound, from what I thought, was quite different from their studio sound, and that notion held true.
The Howl and the Hum took the small stage to an almost uncomfortable level of haze. Whoever was working lights really wanted his fifteen minutes… The band tore into what proved to be a very active live show. They were all over the place. The music expertly toed the line between thumpy and playful, but was certainly heavier (and louder!) than their studio work. It felt like a more evolved sound for the band. Their Facebook page boldly states, “They combine dark hypnotic pop with post-punk influences, pierced with lyrics that will make you call your mum the next morning.”
At the beginning, they would talk a lot between songs, explaining the thoughts that went into the writing process, and chastising the crowd for pronouncing “vitamins” wrong on this side of the pond. As the set progressed however, they wouldn’t leave as much breathing room between ‘miserable discos,’ diving headfirst into the next song seemingly before the first was over.
The band clearly had a sense of humor and came to perform. Horn-rimmed glasses and carefully pomaded pompadours were head-banged out of place, and the proper, sweater-vested boys next door took on their final form as a hard-nosed rock band. They really put on a show. The Howl and the Hum are, obviously, a British group, and don’t have any US tour dates planned as of the writing of this piece. It has been almost a year, however, since their latest release; logic would suggest that they’re working on something new. Keep them in the back of your mind.
I made a quick pitstop at Friend’s Bar on the way to my next set. There I caught French for Rabbits tearing down their stage in preparation for Million Miles, the solo keyboardist and vocalist. Her outfit was eye-catching, with a sparkly twilight mauve shirt that perfectly matched her keyboard case, and flowy black pants with elegant looking cranes circling the pant legs.
The bar was the perfect venue for this type of set. It was a mostly older crowd, either seated or crowded around the aquarium/bar area to grab a Tom Collins or whatever 50+ year olds are getting ripped on nowadays.
Million Miles is a French/British singer songwriter who artfully infuses folk, blues, and soul, with perhaps a hint of R&B. Her voice is angelic, and the notes from her piano elegantly float just beneath it, never competing for attention. Singles “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were crowd favorites, the latter of which being a February ’19 release. Million Miles is perfect music for a de-stressing walk around the block or a lazy afternoon at home.
The last set of the evening saw Bane’s World take the stage at Palm Door on Sixth with some truly beautiful instruments: the pièce de résistance, an off-white Gretsch hollow body. Originally a solo project, Shane (Bane) tours with some musical backing. They played well together and were a well-oiled jazz machine. The set felt more like a laid-back jam session than a music festival set. The music was happy-sounding, but not so much so that it felt “peppy” or overly sappy.
Near the end of the set, Shane said his little piece, finishing with “thanks for hanging out with you… wait, I mean me.” He laughed out loud and continued, “Fuck, I’m tired,” and finished her off with some robot noises before diving into the final song of the set. The young musician’s laid-back, lighthearted energy was infectious, and the music even more so.
With only one studio album to his credit, which was released in 2016, you should expect new work from Bane’s World on the horizon. We also met up for an interview a few days after this set. To get to know the man behind the music, check out our coverage here.
Near the end of summer, I was in Minneapolis and stopped by Extreme Noise Records, a volunteer-run co-op record store. I thought it would be a good time to pick up a couple records for the Rock Show stacks, below are the three records I picked up, which can be found in the new vinyl section of the stacks.
Y’all know what this is. 2017 Providence, RI punk. On this one they tone down the sax and move towards a little less raw sound, but the anger and politics are still very much there. The band blends first wave british punk and post-punk with 80’s hardcore and 00’s indie as Victoria Ruiz screams blistering spanish/english lyrics against oppression on all sides. The lyrics rail against may of our ugliest current issues, including police brutality, xenophobia, Trump, and the poisonous disinterest society exhibits towards solving its problems.
This is their first release on Sup Pop, granting these Chicana, queer, and latino voices a much wider platform and audience. And all the better. This album is angry, vital, and fucking rips. You saw ‘em play at Dillo day, check this one out in the stacks.
Big Boys were an Austin, Texas punk band, this album dating from way back in 1981. Their sound is somewhere in the vicinity of James Chance & the Contortions, or the Minutemen. Very skronky, with lots of funky backbeats, but also some fast n’ loud hardcore. The Big Boys were pioneers in many ways. They were an early band the Texas hardcore scene. They were an early skate-punk band, as can be seen in the beautiful inner photo on the gatefold of this record, and evidenced by their appearances in Thrasher magazine. They spearheaded a vein of danceable, funk influenced punk, and influenced many queercore bands as a group with a charismatic, confrontational, gay frontman.
This record was initially released in hundreds of copies with a hand-silkscreened jacket. As such, it was essentially impossible to find a physical copy until it was reissued in 2013. I think it’s a great addition to the stacks as an important record that was obscure enough to escape the reach of WNUR back in the day. And we’ve got a copy with a beautiful, green-marble disc to boot!
Finally, after being a little naughty and splurging on a copy of Goat by the Jesus Lizard and a Butthole Surfers t-shirt for myself, I asked for a recommendation from the clerks there, looking for a local, vinyl V/A compilation. What they suggested was this record. It’s a great addition to WNUR’s extensive collection of local comps, and contains some great late 90’s/early 00’s metallic hardcore, with lots of metal-tinged riffs, blast-beats and pissed-the-fuck-off vocals. Some standout tracks include ‘Blind Lead the Blind’ by Calloused and ‘Burn My Eyes (Motherfucker)’ by Dreadnaught. Thanks again to the guys at Extreme Noise. If you’re ever in Minneapolis and looking for a punk-first record store, it should be at the top of your list.
Marquis Hill’s performance this past Thursday evening at Constellation was, in many ways, a homecoming for the young trumpet virtuoso. The awards and accolades which sprung him out of this city go without saying for any fan or frequenter of the Chicago jazz scene, and his current residence in New York is one which surely makes those same fans proud. In coming home, Hill left his current ensemble project, The Blacktet, in New York (with the exception of Joshua Johnson) and instead chose to play with Chicago mainstays Makaya McCraven and Joshua Abrams. The bill, correspondingly, was not simply Marquis Hill, but the names of each in the quartet. In the spirit of this non-permanent ensemble, the feeling of a relaxed homecoming pervades. On Thursday night, the homecoming seeped through in the familial interaction between the four musicians on stage, celebrating the return of their friend, but also, in the sense of the overall connected American jazz culture, asking the question: did he ever really leave? We live in a time, and an international Jazz culture in which Chicago’s tentacles of influence and musicianship extend all around the world. Be it Wadada Leo Smith and Nicole Mitchell in Los Angeles or the annual Doek Festival in Berlin celebrating the ongoing collaboration between musicians from Berlin, Amsterdam and Chicago, Marquis Hill has joined the ranks as a continuing force in/of the Chicago jazz scene, regardless of where he calls residence.
After three flowing and fairly free compositions each with distinct moments of freedom and rehearsed starts and stops, Hill took to the mic for the first time to thank the audience for coming. In doing this he also expressed his motives for coming home “to play some creative music, to play some improvised music.” This statement from him, a declared connection and homage to the AACM tradition in Chicago, set the tone for the rest of the concert, which featured mostly loosely composed, freely improvised extended pieces. For a musician like Hill, who tends to stay more “in” than his AACM forbearers, the choice to play a set of mostly free material was, if nothing else, a bit surprising. But with this surprise there also came a treat, as the sold out room experienced an ensemble and a sound rarely heard from one of the city’s contemporary greats.
These free compositions were structured around the individual sounds of those making up the group. Each took their turn beginning a tune with an open solo, and seemingly dictated the nature of the improvisation to follow from there. The standout player of the night for me, and for many others, talking as they left the club, was Makaya McCraven. Another Chicago staple, McCraven has been playing and recording his unique brand of fast rhythmic “beat-jazz” for some time now. The distinctive and virtuosic voice he brings to the instrument was one which lent itself very well to the creative music sound Hill seemed to be reaching for on Thursday night. There were certainly moments of rhythmic cloudiness and indistinguishable pulses, but to my ears, what made Hill experiment novel was the fairly continual rhythmic underpinning McCraven provided. Halfway through the concert, Hill brought out a friend from New York (via Houston), the young and supremely talented James Francis, who sat down at the piano for the rest of the concert. With the addition of the piano, the group took on a different sound, suddenly tethered to a more complex and harmonically-driven rhythm instrument. Francis, like Hill, plays a more ‘in’ style of jazz than the AACM creative music of the mid-sixties, but nonetheless embraced the genre and experiment with tact and open ears.
Those two descriptors, tact and open ears, for me really sum up the night. In saying “creative music” Hill acknowledged his experiment and the footing he and the rest of the band would be taking outside of their comfort zones. This experimentation and paying homage was admirable for a proper homecoming, but also as an audience member, enlightening to hear musicians playing outside of their primary musical focuses. Frankly, the creative music of the quintet on Friday night pales in comparison to the Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell shows I saw in the same room last year. Maybe that is an unfair comparison, to the true masters and legends of Chicago creative improvised music, though it certainly reflects the conundrum musicians encounter when they take a moment to step outside their sound. While it would be easy, and perhaps commonplace, to tell a musician to stick to what they know, it was above all refreshing to hear musicians at the level of Marquis Hill experimenting and expanding the range of their sounds together in respect for the great Chicago jazz tradition. As with any style of music, there is good and bad free jazz, and as far as I can tell that distinction has to do with respect. Do the musicians approach the tradition with tact and open ears? In the case of Hill, McCraven, Francis, Abrams and Johson on Thursday night, that answer was yes and the resulting experiment was successful because of it.
Catch a show at Constellation soon! Full calendar here: http://www.constellation-chicago.com/calendar/
The mechanics of the live musical performance enter a whole new arena when the separation between the artist and the observer breaks down. When the observer spontaneously becomes the art, the result can be quite exhilarating. When the artist performs without a stage detaching them for the viewer, it is refreshing. I’ll always remember the time my roommate, an extremely casual concert goer, turned to me during Princess Nokia’s headlining set at the Language Between the Lines event and shouted to me “this is one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.” He had not heard a note of Princess Nokia’s music before, but that didn’t matter; when you are accustomed to experiencing art within a bubble, all types of emotions rush by when that bubble pops.
This intimacy was one of the inherent strengths of Living in Color’s event, a showcase of underrepresented expression among the Northwestern community. More specifically, this event exhibited the art of many young creatives who “live in color,” a condition defined by Living in Color as “the heterogeneous, always fluid lived experience of people of color and other ‘others’ such as those in the queer, trans, and epiphenomenal communities.”
In addition to the Afro-Nuyorican Princess Nokia, performers included Northwestern students such as rapper Joshua Kim (pictured above), whose performance focused on the identity crisis lingering over members of the Asian-American community, poet Tanya Munoz, who discussed the pain caused by oppression of Hispanics in America, and punk-rock band Carbona ( lead singer Jacqueline Ovalle below), a bilingual group who delivered venomous political music.
The audience opted to stay seated and munch on many of the mouth-watering snacks from the back of the hall during the student performers, but the first sign of this barrier breaking came when Carbona urged the audience to fill the space and come closer. Just like Princess Nokia, this amped up the dynamic; screeching violin solos are significantly more intense when they occur a few feet in front of your face.
However, when the lights dimmed for Princess Nokia (above), the crowd promptly formed a circle around her, before she proceeded to plow through bangers like ‘Tomboy’ or ‘Cybiko’. The only source of illumination was from the video projection behind her, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t lit (haha lmfao)! When my buddy Samuel Berston lost himself to the music and joined Princess Nokia to dance during the last song, it was sensational. When Princess Nokia handed the mic to someone in the crowd because “she had blood dripping down her leg,” the community of viewers became even more united. Props to Living in Color for throwing together something so visceral. It’s not everyday that student groups put together an experience that transcends expectations and celebrates diversity quite like this.
In the year of our Lord 2016, it’s difficult to discuss the live music scene without inevitably bumping into the topic of music festivals. Whether it’s one of the 20+ in Chicago of all different shapes and sizes or one of the countless elsewhere in the world, music festivals have slowly become one of the dominating forces in live music culture over the past 50 years. These festivals are really just another reflection of the recorded music business at large and the continual cycle of artistic commodification in our capitalist society.
At the top of the charts are the large corporate festivals you all know: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, the list goes on. Importantly, all these festivals were at some point fairly independent and small festivals. As the indie aesthetic became more marketable, they became perfect breeding grounds for a takeover of popular indie culture by corporate music and fashion industries, selling not just music but a brand of insiderism.
On the complete other side of the spectrum are the niche festivals like the Bix Beiderbecke Festival Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, Iowa, or the exceptional Vision Festival in New York City (focusing on free jazz) that by their nature will never really grow or appeal to the commercial powers because of their exclusive and dedicated audience.
As festivals have gained traction in the 2000s and the space between these two styles have widened, there has been increased potential for hybrids and highly-curated festivals to fill the space in between. These festivals essentially take the concept of a diverse music festival and make it marketable towards the niche festival audiences. I give this brief overview and festival theory to contextualize Big Ears as one of those wonderful festivals existing between.
I can still vividly remember walking into the Sun Ra Arkestra concert the first night of the festival last year after a long 11 hour drive from Chicago to Knoxville. The small group of WNUR travelers was certainly tired, but that didn’t seem to be a word the 92-year-old Marshall Allen even conceptualized as he launched into a ripping solo the moment we entered the room. The sound was electric; the crowd danced; the sequins sparkled. As the band played an extended rendition of “Saturn,” we collectively felt the sleep wear off. We all became a little more conscious of how incredible these three days were about to be. Instead of talking about specifics five months after a festival, I would like to touch on some of the lasting impressions of the experience, the profound effect the festival had on my music listening practice and concept.
In many ways, the most special aspect of the entire festival was logistical, which counters the pop-culture perception of what a music festival should be. Instead of following the trend to create a festival grounds and centralized area for the festival with food vendors and beer gardens, Big Ears organizers really use the city of Knoxville to its full potential, utilizing already established venues for music and stores and restaurant spaces. This planning strategy, especially holding music in real venues, does away with the “festival set” phenomenon that affects many other, especially outdoor, festivals and legitimately creates a feeling that each show you are seeing is as the artist intends their music to be presented.
Along with the attention to space, the time allotted for and between performances, adds to the feeling of seeing actual performances and not just festival sets, and allows musicians to take care in their sound checks and incorporate any staging they may want to. Overall, I think this reflects music-first festival programming, that maybe doesn’t appeal to the usual festival-going crowd, but provides a festival experience for the serious music listener.
With the thought of who Big Ears attracts in mind, I remember very warmly the feeling of community that developed over the course of the beautiful weekend. I had the feeling that every person standing next to me at every show, from those in the crowd for Anthony Braxton to Nicolas Jaar to Lambchop, shared a deep love and appreciation for the music at their core and through that felt a sort of universal understanding. It’s a feeling anything I write here cannot possibly do justice, and a feeling that calls me back this year’s festival. Considering the more curatorial aspects of the festival, a glance at the festival lineup can tell you, Big Ears is one of the most incredibly diverse and genre-defying festivals in the country. It’s the only place I know of to hear incredibly high level performances of free jazz, hip-hop, contemporary classical, drone metal, alt-country and Brazilian psych rock in one day. (If you know of any other places, please share.) That fact alone stands an incredible testament to the booking job and commitment to a wide variety of underrepresented music Big Ears consistently demonstrates.
In many ways, I came into the festival with medium-sized open ears. Ears eager to hear experimental music, ears equipped for non-judgmental listening, but ears with varying levels of experience listening to the music and genres they were about to encounter. And I left with big ears, very big ears ready and prepared to devour experimental music in Chicago. Ears that will lead me back to the next beautiful summit of musicians and listeners in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The lineup for Big Ears 2017 was recently released and tickets are available now for the March 23-26 festival. This year the lineup features Carla Bley, Henry Grimes, Supersilent and Henry Threadgill representing jazz among others, all favorites of DJs here at the WNUR Jazz Show. Chicago bands Wilco and Tortoise will hold down the rock programming, along with Coleen, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof and the Magnetic Fields. Michael Hurley is going to play some guitar and sing (wow), and Steve Lehman and Sélébéyone will make a special appearance to present one of the most innovative jazz and hip-hop albums of the year. The list goes on; I could write pages about every one of these musicians just listed, but I’ll stop here, give you a link to the website, and let you find your own collection of Big Ears artist to get excited about.
WNUR Media Team reported on Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFest) this spring! Watch this little recap to see what we saw.
Despite a brief but perilous afternoon storm, Saturday was arguably the best day of Pitchfork. Best performances of the day included Sleater-Kinney, Kurt Vile, and early afternoon standout Bully. We kicked off the afternoon around 2pm with a killer set by the latter Nashville-bred breakout act. Bully gave a high-energy, technically sound performance; lead singer and frontwoman Alicia Bognanno drove the music and banter with some serious Riot Grrrl-influenced wailing and lyrical content. We spotted her sidestage the next day, eagerly soaking up Kathleen Hanna’s legendary presence during The Julie Ruin’s set–another standout of the weekend–and providing further evidence of the band’s punk-feminist inspiration.
The rest of Saturday’s lineup was stacked with good music, and we had a hard time deciding where to compromise. We first journeyed to the Green Stage for Future Brown, where we spotted WNUR alumnus and former Streetbeat Music Director Nick Harwood–one of the group’s managers–scurrying about comically backstage. He blew a kiss from the back corner as three of Future Brown’s four members (Nguzu Nguzu’s NA was absent) approached the CDJs. The performance was disappointingly mediocre. There’s not a whole lot to see when three people man two CDJs (I can only imagine what it looks like with 4 of them) and it seemed that J-Cush was heavily dominating the mixing. Asma Maroof and Fatima Al-Qadiri bounced around half-heartedly and exchanged whispers for most of the set. To make matters worse, an unidentified group of rappers came on stage to perform one collaboration but ended up staying for five or more songs. The squad clearly lacked experience and stage presence; they acted as poor hype-men (adding little originality and leaving large gaps of silence) and took superfluous selfies until Harwood made the move to vacate them from the stage. Suffice to say that chunk of time seriously impacted the overall vibe of the performance. One of the show’s saving graces came from Sicko Mobb’s arrival and performance of their Future Brown collaboration, “Big Homie,” and the Chicago bop classic “Fiesta.” Sicko’s arrival marked the only time that the three members of FB appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves, despite the fact that Sicko Mobb are unforgivably obvious lip-syncers. The poor sound quality of higher frequencies and the group’s decision to omit Maluca-featured banger “Vernáculo” ensured that the performance was decidedly average.
After Future Brown, our group parted ways. A few headed to the Red Stage for Ex Hex while the rest imbibed in VIP (thanks, Pitchfork!) and awaited Vince Staples’ slot. Our revelry came to an abrupt halt when the sky caved from tense humidity, unleashing sheets of rain onto festival-goers. Attendees ducked under umbrellas while promotions tent staff tossed a variety of branded ponchos to people running desperately for cover. I spotted Shamir, who had been bopping around the festival quite conspicuously all day, sprint into VIP with his hands over his head and his pink button-down clinging to his adolescent body. What at first appeared to be a brief bout of flash floods quickly became a dangerous thunderstorm; a friend walked away from the beverage tent with two beers in hand and reported that the festival was closing (she wanted to get her money’s worth of alcohol before then). Union Park became chaos as people stormed the exits while others huddled under trees and umbrellas–two of the worst places to stand during a thunderstorm. We managed to collect our friends and escape just before the sky cleared and Pitchfork announced that the festival would re-open in a mere twenty minutes. In the interim, I was interviewed by Fox News, Chu did the Nae Nae in the background to the chagrin of the interviewer, and we unsuccessfully attempted to dry our socks in a bathroom hand dryer and have a drink in Kaiser Tiger across the street.
Though the first half of his set was cut short by weather, Kurt Vile put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Three long and well-chosen jams–”Walkin’ On A Pretty Day”– lulled the audience into post-rain trance and brought our spirits up despite muddy, squishy socks. We hung around on the Blue Stage for the next three sets, catching the very end of Ariel Pink and most of (a forgettable) A$AP Ferg and Shamir. I had high hopes for Shamir, and they weren’t necessarily betrayed; the young artist put on a good show with great stage presence, and it was clear that he had a lot of fun. But his age was evident in his vocal control, which could use a bit of maturing and development for a fuller sound (not his fault; staff also struggled with soundcheck and delayed his set by about 45 minutes, which might have something to do with it). As we grooved to Shamir’s dancey beats, we got word that Sophie had been delayed in New York by the storm and would be replaced by Towkio. Sophie had been one of our most anticipated sets of the day, but we tried not to be discouraged by the news even though the chosen replacement act essentially rendered Pitchfork a Savemoney circle jerk. We headed to the Green Stage for a close spot at Sleater-Kinney instead. As much as I appreciate Chicago’s own Kanye protege Vic Mensa, the lady rocker trio has my heart.
They did not disappoint. Years of experience on stage and as a group are evident in these seasoned musicians. As it was at their February Chicago show, Sleater-Kinney’s sound was clear and their timing tight. Corin Tucker’s voice still hit those beautifully agonizing wails and Carrie Brownstein’s held up lyrically, too, though it sounded a bit worn and gravelly when she spoke. The band mostly played songs from their acclaimed January release “No Cities To Love” (sadly omitting our album favorite “Gimme Love”), including the title track, which Brownstein coincidentally wrote in a hotel room in Chicago. Of course, the group sprinkled some older hits in between–stealing our hearts, for example, with 1997’s despairing “One More Hour” off of Sleater-Kinney’s third studio album, “Dig Me Out” (whose title track they also played). The duet is an homage and farewell to Brownstein and Tucker’s brief but evidently passionate former romance. It continues to be one of the most moving breakup songs on the market (in my opinion), and it’s undoubtedly a unique experience to watch the two share their mutual personal experience through performance. That they got through their breakup without letting it ruin either their musical chemistry or friendship–as demonstrated by the fact that they wrote a song about it, which they continue to play 18 years later–gives the track an even weightier presence.
The show wasn’t all angst, though. The cisfemale trio seemed to be having a grand old time on stage; spirits were high and smiles plentiful as they attacked their instruments in brightly colored dresses. Drummer Janet Weiss carried the performance with incredible precision. Brownstein, notorious for spastically jerking around stage with her guitar and wieldy limbs, threw one leg kick too high during “Ironclad” (ironically, as Corin sang the words “you will fall the hardest”) and went down hard with the momentum. Yet she didn’t miss a beat (or a chord) and rebounded upright with graceful finesse–she even threw in another post-slip kick for good measure. The whole wipeout happened so fast that it was easy to miss. The band’s energy propelled the performance forcefully onward. Suffice to say that S-K was the perfect end to a rollercoaster of a day, and by many accounts the best set of the weekend.
*Note: the below discussion does not reflect the opinions of all WNUR members. This is only one DJ’s recap of the festival. “We” does not refer to all present WNUR members; WNUR members did not see all of the same performances.
The sun hauled itself into the sky with a vengeance on Friday morning of Pitchfork weekend, bringing with it a thick humidity that signaled the first real day of Chicago summer. The thousands who streamed into Union Park late Friday afternoon happily endured muggy air and relentless heat over the forecast’s predicted weekend-long thunderstorms (which, as it turned out, appeared in full force for a brief but perilous hour on Saturday afternoon). Friday’s mellow lineup and shorter set list–presumably designed to accommodate the work schedules of Pitchfork’s young professional demographic–provided a pleasant relief from the day’s unexpected high temperatures, gently easing festival-goers into the long weekend.
Entrance lines were far inexcusably long but moved quickly as attendees trickled in from the Green line. We arrived just after 4pm to catch ILoveMakonnen for our first set of the festival. We were skeptical from the start, and Makonnen met our expectations by giving one of the less memorable performances of the weekend. Crowd teasers were scattered between indistinguishable crooning; Makonnen pulled the all-too-predictable move of playing his hit, “Tuesday,” last (after pulling the also-predictable move of pretending to start playing it two other times during his set). The highlight was easily “I Don’t Sell Molly No More”–and though it’s up for debate whether he actually performed that song better or we just loved the song to begin with, Makonnen’s most sonically unique production was a refreshing break in an otherwise monotonous set.
We dashed off to Steve Gunn–whose performance I had missed at Big Ears–before Makonnen’s set ended, and prepared ourselves for a subsequently more rock-oriented evening. I wished we were able to give Steve the time he deserved as we stage-hopped to Red for Mac DeMarco, whose physical build had grown in proportion to his fan base. I barely recognized the burly singer–a far cry from the skinny 22-year-old on the cover of 2. I could hardly see him over the vast crowd anyway, but his music proved perfect (as ever) for sunset on a summer Friday.
Friday on the whole proved somewhat unsatisfying in its length and scheduling. We had previously agreed that we thought the first day hosted the least interesting lineup of the weekend, and numerous overlapping time slots made it difficult to experience (and thus make a proper assessment of) any full performance. Our small squad–which did not consist of all WNUR members present at the festival–drifted to the Green stage and sat in the grass, disappointed that we missed the better half of Mac DeMarco’s set. I half-heartedly engaged in Panda Bear’s performance amidst our dialogue; my interest was driven more by nostalgic curiosity than genuine enjoyment. He sold out every show I wanted to go to in high school, yet I was not impressed. I wondered whether my musical taste had changed that drastically or Panda Bear’s music had not changed (read: developed artistically) enough. Jaded by Iceage (how many festivals have they played at recently?) and uninspired by endlessly over-hyped CHVRCHES, we spent most of the next hour catching up with friends and WNUR alumni. We were so absorbed in each other’s company that we missed Ought–one of my few regrets of the weekend–but it was well worth the laughs. Spent from a full day’s efforts, the sun drooped below the horizon and Wilco’s homecoming set ricocheted through the trees by the time we collected ourselves. We wandered through the thick crowd and towards the exit. I surprised myself with my disinterest in hanging on to every note of Wilco’s set; they were another of my high school favorites. But a few songs were enough to satisfy my desire. I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather see drummer Glenn Kotche performing alone.