Tag Archives: Live Music

Bonnaroo: Day 3 (Saturday)

Saturday night brought on many exciting and respectable acts. From the much-anticipated headliner Jack White, to excellent sets from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Flaming Lips, an argument could be made that it was the best block of performances of the entire festival. However, in the interest of honesty, I have to say that there is only one artist that I feel compelled to specifically address: Ms. Lauryn Hill. Late as ever, she descended upon an audience filled with questions: Would she even show? If so, will she even properly finish her set? Why the “Ms.?” These questions aren’t exactly unmerited. Hill is known for her distaste for the music industry and erratic live performances. Her thirty-minute tardiness wasn’t some egomaniacal antic, though. Rather, the set before her played ten minutes over, giving her a paltry twenty-minutes for set up

In contrast to the countless shows half-squandered by lackluster, time-crunched sound checks, Lauryn Hill’s band adhered to their own meticulous methods. Nearly half an hour was devoted to the band jamming, working the audience, and testing levels. Next, the three back-up singers came out and made sure their blend was properly honored by the right balance. Finally, the magic Ms. came out and demonstrated the critical value of a thorough soundcheck. Tearing into virtuosic rap-laden reggae/funk versions of old songs, her sound was unique and unparalleled. Her selections were mostly re-envisioned versions of songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, with some Fugees songs to spare (rapping Wyclef and Pras’ verses, naturally). Hill’s use of good old-fashioned back up singers, devoid of any vocal backing tracks, made me wonder why we accept anything less– why we often praise people for singing or rapping most of their set, leaving the rest to a pre-recorded track as a safety net.

At a festival where EDM often served as the new jam-band (that’s no slight to most acts; dark-electronica duo Darkside offered an innovative late-night set), a woman delivering all of her words from her mouth and her mouth only was a welcome display. It’s also safe to say that Lauryn Hill put on the best rap performance at Bonnaroo: not only did she spit rapid-fire flow right through the center of a live band, halfway through she performed a self-played acoustic set alternating between spoken word-influenced rap and her signature neo-soul riffs. She also managed to blow Pharrell’s hat game out of the water in one fell swoop.

At a festival with no female headliners and only three females gracing the mainstage (shoutout to Janelle Monae, Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens, and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Susan Tedeschi) in afternoon slots, it was hard not to feel a little disappointed in the lineup’s lack of female artists (of which there are many to choose from). But there was solace to be found in the fact that Lauryn Hill made better than good on her performance. By taking the time she needed to get her sound right and delivering some of the most precise vocals I’ve ever heard live, the one-time Fugees member showed how to do a festival act right. Hill is one of the best female vocalists we’ve got today. Hopefully her performance made people think twice about the level of quality we mosh, bob, and sing along to at these kinds of shindigs. On her 2002 recording of “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0,” Hill mused on the idea that “fantasy is what people want, but reality is what we need.” Sure enough, she demonstrated that the real thing is not only necessary, but worth more than any backing track.

Craft Spells at Township

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To truly get the best out of Chicago’s vibrant music scene, you need to venture out to the smaller neighborhood venues where genuine bands make their way to play their hearts out. I think it would be safe to say that this is true of finding good live music in any major metropolitan area. Tucked in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago you’ll find a low-key spot called Township. Part bar and dining area, known for having a pretty fantastic brunch offering, part venue space, this was where dream pop outfit Craft Spells made their long-awaited tour stop last week. Armed with plenty of new material off their new release, Nausea, some old favorites, and the support of local bands Zoo Brother and Exit Ghost, Craft Spells put on a night of music sure to please long-time and new fans alike.

ZooBrotherKicking off the night was Chicago self-described DIY “garage pop” group, Zoo Brother. The band was not shy about how excited they were to be playing on the same bill as one of their idols. On the band’s Facebook page, Craft Spells is first on the list of influences and during their set, frontman William Karmis noted “I’ve been bumping [Nausea] in my car all week.” It was easy to see the dream pop influence in their sound and how Zoo Brother fit into the mix. Their strength was mainly in their solid, catchy beats that were easy to move along to. Karmis’ vocals had an earnest strain to them that helped portray the longing in the words he was singing. Each member was clearly in sync with one another as they played and overall, Zoo Brother did an excellent job of getting the crowd into the right mindset for what they were about to experience.

Immediately following was another local act, Exit Ghost. The large, six-piece indie pop group made their way onto the small stage and with so many members, to say that their sound was full would be an understatement. The energy was already rising in the room and Exit Ghost successfully heightened it that much more. They had notable stage presence, not only during their songs but between songs as well, making jokes with the audience. A standout factor during their set were the lovely vocals, both lead and background, which were almost too easy to get lost into.

Finally, it was time for the set that one could argue fans had been waiting all night for, others could argue fans had been waiting two years for since Craft Spells last played Chicago, accompanying The Drums at Subterranean. Whichever way you look at it, the anticipation in the room was undeniable. Each member made their way to their spot on stage to the sound of excited cheers. They dove right in with the title track off of Nausea. Their was mellow swaying and head-bobbing during the song which you would think would be consistent throughout the entire set, given the relaxed, peaceful nature of Craft Spells tunes. Well, you may be surprised to hear that the excited energy turned what started out as dancing into moshing later on in the night, especially during fan favorite ‘Party Talk’. The strangest part being that this was actually the second dream pop artist attached to the Captured Tracks label whose live show featured heavy moshing (note Beach Fossils at Subterranean, May 2013).CS2

Everyone was of course eager to hear some brand new material, fresh from the studio but of course, the crowd went nuts over Idle Labor gems like ‘From the Morning Heat’, ‘The Fog Rose High’, and the previously mentioned ‘Party Talk’. Frontman Justin Vallesteros addressed the crowd and noted how excited he was to be able to get to play the new stuff for everyone. The band’s energy quickly matched that of everyone in the room and for that one set, everyone seemed to let loose and completely let the moment take over.

You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a live show by the genre of music. Craft Spells’ normally dreamy tone still managed to set the stage for a show bursting with energy.

 

The Ivorys at Township

There’s something rather thrilling about going out to see a show at a venue you’ve never been to. You never really know what you’re going to get. Directly off of the California blue line stop in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago is exactly where I found myself last Saturday for a night of local acts with talent bursting at the seams. Dirty Rotten Sunshine, Secret Colours, and The Ivorys (all based out of Chicago) shared a bill at Township and with their lively tunes, each band managed to engage audience members and keep them wanting more. If anything, this show was evidence of  the high caliber of Chicago’s local music scene.

First up to bat was Dirty Rotten Sunshine. Looks can be deceiving and despite the clean-cut appearance of the frontman Brian O’Malley, his vocals had a much more grunge-based style to them. The immediate comparison my mind drew was to the vocals of Ethan Hawke put to work for his fake band, Hey, That’s My Bike, in the 90′s hit Reality Bites. It is rare for me to note fictional bands when describing a real band’s sound, let alone to do it twice for one band, but I also couldn’t help thinking of Sex Bob-omb‘s ‘Garbage Truck‘ upon hearing the melody of some of Dirty Rotten Sunshine’s tracks. Their fuzzy guitar rock was had the perfect amount of edge to it and had everyone in the room bobbing their heads and tapping their heels in time to the rhythm.

Next onstage was The Ivorys. Fresh off a set at SXSW in March and after recently having their track ‘Maraca Song’ picked up by Forever 21 for a major ad campaign, you could say these guys have had a pretty good year so far. Their catchy hooks matched with their classic rock sound created a vivacious energy that quickly consumed the room. Each member of the trio was completely in sync and allowed themselves to get lost in the moment, exhibiting some stellar dance moves. It was easy to see they were having  fun with it, which made the overall experience that much more enjoyable for the crowd. Highlights of the night included high-octane track ‘She Needs the Money’ as well as the slightly slowed down ‘To Hell With Waiting’. The Ivorys are a band to watch in the coming years. They’re going somewhere, and fast.

After a no-holds-barred set, Secret Colours followed. Aesthetically, this was a group that had no issues when it comes to fashion. The guys of the local indie rock outfit were dressed to impress with button-up shirts, ties, and even frontman Tommy Evans was rocking some stylish shades in the dimly lit venue (which he made reference to later in the night. Sonically, theirs was the sound of ever-so-slightly psych-infused indie rock; think Cage the Elephant meets a younger, more hip version of The Dandy Warhols. As a band who has played with groups like The Raveonettes and Warpaint, these guys were no stranger to the stage, and it showed. Somewhere between the electrifying guitar chords and the skillful layering of instrumentation, the audience was beyond hooked.

It was a show that went without a hitch from one set to the next. Truly a showcase of talent and most importantly, a night filled with damn good music.

Nothing at Subterranean

It’s hard to know what to expect when the band you’re about to see has roots in both the hardcore and shoegaze communities – you could either walk away with severely dampened spirits or a pair of black eyes. Fortunately I was able to walk out of Nothing’s Thursday night show at Chicago’s probably-haunted Subterranean with neither, the only fatalities being temporary hearing damage and a suddenly-rational fear of being trampled at a shoegaze show. If you’re not familiar with the abusive slip-on-Vansgaze of the moody Philadelphia-based quartet, imagine what an east coast hardcore punk band like Blacklisted would sound like if they’d grown up on My Bloody Valentine, spent a few years soul searching, and ended their spiritual vagrancy with very disappointing answers.

Needless to say, the the mood at Subterranean was hard to pin down – the tattooed hands of those around me in the what-would-be pit seemed to wring in anticipation as local noisemakers Torture Love formulated a funereal solemnity which was difficult to reciprocate with more than mere courteous and sympathetic nods. After wrapping up their set with banana-stifled shouts (“yup, that’s Matt” the singer’s co-worker repeated to me several times with a chuckle as he recalled the spectacle, as if eating bananas and shouting was a typical Matt-ism), local dreamgaze cool-uncles Airiel brought the inscrutable heft with melodies unrestrained and whammy aplenty. Like Torture Love and the headliner, Airiel’s abstract expressionism reached its pinnacle at the end of the set as the band left their instruments stuttering reverb as they left the stage one by one (some more violently than others – apparently the demolition of a guitar is all it took to get a rise out of the sepulchral crowd).

As several stage-crowders backed out while Nothing set up, I reflected upon the impending ruination of my eardrums, and like those around me, accepted the fact that Nothing’s sonic nihilism may very well be the last thing we ever hear. To ensure general glumness, the band kicked off their set with a recording of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Devil Town’ – perhaps a lyrical summation of frontman Domenic Palermo’s aforementioned spiritual research – and immediately dug straight into the excavational contact hitter ‘Dig.’ Right off the bat it was apparent that there was little point in miking Palermo and co-vocalist Brandon Setta, as the immense wall of noise being emitted from their amps left little room for oral output (given these guys’ resumes, not much was expected in terms of angelic inside voices).

While the band mostly assumed the semblance of a typical shoegaze act (despite the physical appearance of flamboyantly straight-edge hardcore rockers), bassist Nick Bassett was granted apt acreage onstage to be as active as one can while wielding his slender instrument, and Palermo, channeling his reckless roots, hopped offstage during ‘Get Well’s’ crunchy outro to make a beeline through the audience, encouraging minimal jocular violence amongst the seemingly-pleased hand-tatted population. Kyle Kimball, shirtless drummer and vengeful Cillian Murphy doppelganger, served as the hectic percussive anchor remarkably out of his comfort zone in a band like Nothing, somehow making him the perfect candidate for the band. Setta, also brandishing guitar, kindly asked that the light over his head be turned off at the beginning of their set and remained in the shadows ‘til set’s end.

There were few moments of earblood-coagulating silence, as most of the band’s songs were strung together with other audio samples which were difficult to recognize over the squeals resonating from the previous songs, but recalled the mid-album readings of Titus Andronicus. Presumably it was the leftover wailing scuzz that wooed them back onstage for a one-song encore in which their expressionism evolved into an interactive exhibit when Palermo handed off his guitar to be passed around the audience (a kind gesture which, unfortunately, did little more than baffle the audience, myself included). It was as if Pollock was lending out his paintbrush for others to contribute to his splatter painting, and with that the night ended on a lighter note than many of us deemed possible.

Connan Mockasin at Empty Bottle

Over the years, New Zealand has offered up many cultural gems when it comes to entertainment. For those who love an epic tale of good vs. evil there’s The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, if lighthearted and funny is more your thing, there’s comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, you’ve got your grammy-winning pop artists like breakout star Lorde, and there’s even something for all you experimental/psych rock fans; enter Connan Mockasin. Artist Connan Hosford took on the stage name to create solo work after the disintegration of his first group, Connan & The Mockasins. Last week at Empty Bottle, Hosford made his first ever stop in Chicago and something tells me the crowd left as much of an impression on him as he did with them.

Before any of the music started, a seemingly shy Australian man climbed up onstage at the intimate, dimly lit venue and began to peak to the chattering audience members hanging back by the bar. No one could tell quite yet if this was a part of the show but the man announced he would be doing some standup before the first set began. I’ve got to admit that I was a little thrown off, it isn’t often that I go to see a band and one of their openers is a comedy act but I was intrigued. The man moreso relied on awkward silences and his overall lack of material to keep people laughing and surprisingly enough, it actually worked. He then mentioned to the audience that this was only his second time ever doing this, which made things even more confusing. The shtick was brief and by the time the opening artist and his band came up to the stage, all was revealed. The “comedian” was actually the drummer backing up Australian solo artist, Kirin J Callinan. Also being accompanied by his brother on various instruments, Callinan was quite the comedian himself, which was apparent visibly in his wardrobe (he even wore his chain and his turtleneck sweater…literally). It would be a near impossible task to try to classify Callinan’s genre of music. It was somewhere mixed between industrial, experimental, electronic, with a hint of 80′s Bowie flamboyancy. If you’re wondering what that would look/sound like live onstage, I can assure you it was nothing short of awesome. The music was dark yet infectious, which made it all the more intriguing. Callinan’s charisma had everyone watching him hooked.

Next up, it was time for the headlining act. Connan and the members of his band climbed onstage, all with unique and eccentric wardrobe pieces that had each member standing out from the other. Immediately upon starting the first song, Connan climbed down in the middle of the venue floor with his legs crossed, jamming for everyone in the room. The audience sat as well, looking on intently. It’s not rare to see a lead singer get up close and personal with the crowd during their set but I can safely say it was the first time I had seen it done on the very first song of the night. It got the crowd in a very relaxed, comfortable mood and created a sense of community between patrons. The music was very mellowed out and groovy. From start to finish, the entire set felt like the band was letting us in on one giant jam session as opposed to playing individual songs. The best way to classify their sound would be psychedelic lounge music (if there even is such a thing) or even better, to quote my boyfriend and plus-one for the evening, they were like “Phish with more drugs.” The band invited Kirin J Callinan and friends to come back up the stage to help them jam and after that was when things started getting really bizarre. In the middle of one of the songs, a bandmate walked over to Connan and helped him strip out of his top layers until he was shirtless. He then encouraged the audience members to strips, saying “Chicago, they told us you were strippers.” Quickly everyone onstage as well as many audience members in the first few rows were shirtless. Another thing I can safely say I’ve never seen at a show. As easy as the music was to listen to, Callinan’s set was by far the more interesting and compelling sets of the night.

It was a night of unique sounds, strange sights, and amateur standup. If I can say anything, it’s that these artists from down under definitely know how to put on a show that will entertain.