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Lollapalooza 2017: Reflections


In my 13 years of attending Lollapalooza, I’ve had a number of people ask me why I go when “it’s so terrible.” While calling the festival “terrible” is absolutely a matter of opinion, it’s one that’s held by a wide range of people. To most, the idea of spending multiple days in the vast wasteland of Grant Park with 100,000 (per day) of your closest friends is nearly the equivalent of torture. It’s hot and sweaty with lines everywhere and access is tiered by how much money you’re willing to pay and nothing sounds great in the park and a whole host of other complaints. I’ve heard them all, and none of them have deterred me from continuing to go year after year. I understand too, and those grievances are not entirely unjustified. But in my view those issues are also a bit short-sighted.

Lollapalooza may be, as Jim DeRogatis puts it, the music equivalent of “Walmart on the lake,” but I’d argue that the damage it causes every summer is pretty much worth it if you’re going for the right reasons. Specifically I’m talking about the music. If you LOVE live music, Grant Park is not the ideal venue to see it in. Neither is a space where tens of thousands of people (many drunk or on drugs) are all crammed together trying to find the best sight lines. Some are even content to simply talk the entire time and ignore what’s taking place on stage. But where else are you going to have the chance to see 170+ artists over a four day period at a cost that falls somewhere around $350? Economically speaking, you won’t find a better deal than that. Were you to choose 10 artists each day that you’d be interested in seeing perform live and add up the costs of tickets to individual venue shows from each, the total price would be at least double. Hell, I spent nearly the cost of a full weekend Lolla ticket to see Paul McCartney this year, when his prior Chicago show was at Lollapalooza. Also, festivals can serve as a music discovery engine. You can easily wander from stage to stage and stop when you hear something good. I’ve found more than a few new artists at Lolla over the years by stumbling past during their sets.

My grand point is that if you’re there solely for the music, the atmosphere doesn’t matter nearly as much. Unfortunately, most Lolla attendees aren’t there for the music, or at least don’t make it a huge priority outside of a handful of bands they truly love. That’s part of the problem, and one the fest feeds into by creating plenty of distractions for those less musically inclined. Have some food! Wander into the merch store! Check out some tents devoted to various causes! Hang out in some hammocks or check out the wine bar! And new for 2017, strap on some roller skates or play an arcade game! Hey, if it keeps randos who don’t care about the music away from the stage, then more power to you. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself at Lolla if I wasn’t there to watch as many artists perform as possible.

Which finally brings me to Lollapalooza 2017, aka the year things got better but also worse. Let’s start with the good. They improved the restrooms considerably. Entire sections were devoted to urinals, while the traditional plastic port-o-potties were replaced with slightly nicer ones that actually had porcelain toilet bowls that flushed. For once, I didn’t dread using the restroom. At least not at first. Because we can’t have nice things, the very clean and very easily accessible restroom areas slowly descended into chaos as the weekend progressed, until finally on Sunday night I used a urinal that had “Fuck the Police” written in giant letters across it, while a large turd sat below – clearly the result of someone who didn’t have the time or foresight to wait in line to use an actual toilet. This is why we can’t have nice things. In a less disgusting change for the better, this year Lollapalooza also upgraded their video screens. These new gigantic HD displays surrounded the two biggest stages, and made viewing performances from a distance much, much easier. No complaints about those, and I hope they continue to invest in them for the future. Lastly, I’ll say nice things about the roller rink and arcade that were added this year, not because I skated or played any video games, but because I found them to be fun distractions that fit well with the overall aesthetic vibe of the festival.

On the negative side, I’ve only got one complaint, but it’s a major one. It seemed that this year Lollapalooza was struggling with lineup flop sweat. The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016 and because they had “50% more artists than usual” requesting to perform, the decision was made to expand from three days to four. When it was announced organizers said it was a “one time only” thing, but they also weren’t about to turn down that extra money, so the change became permanent. And in all honesty, last year’s lineup wound up being pretty great – enough to justify the extra day. Not so much for 2017. Maybe it was how they scheduled it, but there were multiple periods this year where music lovers were left with artist choices that went from bad to worse. Obviously there are fan bases for SUICIDEBOYS and The Drums, but neither are exactly critically acclaimed nor particularly dynamic live performers. Yet they were on two of the main stages at the same time on Thursday. The same can be said for Vance Joy and Royal Blood on Saturday. Not meaning to be too insulting, but there’s very little original or novel about either artist. Sunday forced the choice of Milky Chance vs. London Grammar on you, and it was a little tough to get excited about either.

Call me a snob if you must, but just because an artist has some radio hits doesn’t automatically make them good or worth your time. To a degree, they make music for casual fans – those that don’t listen to much music in the first place, who automatically accept and embrace whatever band is pumping out of nearby speakers under the assumption that it must be good. If you can live your life that way, taking what’s being given to you without questioning, exploring and coming to your own decisions on what’s good, I feel a little sorry for you. There’s joy to be found in the fringes, but if a festival like Lollapalooza doesn’t give you those fringes then you can wind up trapped in a sea of mediocrity. Hence my criticism of their booking/scheduling for 2017. There were still plenty of great moments (that I’ll highlight in a minute), but fewer than usual with more duds and dead spots that almost make one want to take some time away from the stages and explore some of those aforementioned other options and activities happening in Grant Park. My advice, which organizers absolutely will not take, is to revert back to the three day format. With one less day for bookers to worry about, the quality vs. quantity will be more even-handed and they can ensure that music fans of all types can be satisfied better. It worked quite well for a decade before they added that fourth day, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in their favor again.

Lastly, I want to take note of some fantastic performances from Lollapalooza 2017. While I’m a little disappointed I didn’t stumble upon some incredible new artist this year as I often have in the past, there were still a few surprises that caught me off guard in a very good way.

White Reaper put on a better than good performance on Thursday, which was a wonderful way to kick off the festival.

But it was Cage the Elephant’s day, and arguably entire weekend, as their wildly unhinged set was so fun that it was just about all anybody could talk about. I still can’t stop thinking about it, and am under the firm belief they’ll be headlining Lollapalooza sooner rather than later.

As for headliners, while we only got 3 songs from Muse, they managed to make the most of it as everyone went completely nuts in the pouring rain to massive jams like “Psycho” and “Hysteria”. Had they been able to continue their performance in the rain, it likely would have gone down as one of the greatest in Lolla history.

I remain firm in my conviction that The Lemon Twigs are a band to watch, and they delivered yet again on Friday with another stunning set that hopefully won them many new fans.

Then there’s the always reliable Run the Jewels, who continue to assert their dominance with every performance. While they didn’t bring any special guests with them, they did pull some random guy up from the crowd with a sign asking if he could rap “Legend Has It”. The whole thing was a blast, really.

Saturday saw a very accomplished set from Highly Suspect, a band that on record might seem like your typical alt-rock fare these days but who are secretly hiding guitar skills so impressive that even some of the greats would probably approve.

And I have to compliment Mac DeMarco for a typically bizarre and hilarious set that ended with a couple of covers for which he didn’t know the lyrics (Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and The Champs’ “Tequila”), and the obtuse noise pollution that is “Chamber of Reflection”.

Overall though, it felt like Lollapalooza saved the best for last, since Sunday was packed with remarkable performances. Lo Moon managed to impress and give me chills with their ambitious and ambient epics.

Joseph seemed to be having a blast as their incredible vocal harmonies sounded even better in person and gave life to tired bodies.

Car Seat Headrest continues to evolve as a live band, often switching things up on the recorded versions of tracks to take them down interesting detours.

The Shins have also grown significantly since I last saw them a few years back, seeming more at home in their own skins, having fun and running through a set list that includes almost all of their best songs.

Finally, Arcade Fire put a nice little bow on the entire four days with a strong performance and set list that pulled from across their entire catalog. Let’s just say they were wise to minimize the number of songs played from their unfocused new album Everything Now.

So that about wraps up my thoughts on Lollapalooza 2017. It was a pretty good time this year, as it is just about every year, even when the music wasn’t quite up to par. Let’s hope they literally get their acts together and do a better job with booking for 2018, tough as that has to be in the current 4-day structure. At least everything else ran smoothly and resulted in few to no inconveniences for those who knew what they were doing. Will I be back again next year? Probably, out of tradition mostly, but it’s my sincere hope that maybe one of these days they’ll finally manage to assemble one of the greatest festivals of all time.

Lollapalooza 2017: Preview Guide


So you’re headed to Lollapalooza. Whether it’s your first time or your thirteenth (points to self), spending four days in the heart of Grant Park is never easy, but if done properly, is always a ton of fun. And while there are plenty of activities to do and things to consume, the real reason you’re there is to see and hear some of your favorite bands and artists perform as well as maybe make some new discoveries. So in between waiting in line to get in and waiting in line to get a beer and waiting in line to use the restroom and waiting in line to get food, you could realistically catch a good 8-10 performances each day. The punishment on your body won’t be great, but the rewards will likely be worth it when all is said and done. Whether you’ve already planned out your Lolla weekend or are simply going to play it by ear, it helps to at least have an idea of some of the top artists for every hour of every day. This guide is here to help! After the jump is a roadmap to four days of festival fun that will hopefully ensure a quality experience with fewer challenges and scheduling conflicts.

But first! A couple of annual tips about how to manage your time at Lollapalooza, from somebody who hasn’t missed a single day since 2005. First and foremost – prepare for weather! Coat yourself in sunscreen and bug spray before even leaving the house. You’ll thank me later. Bring a poncho, because it’s probably gonna rain at some point. As I’m writing this, the forecast says rain on Thursday and Saturday, so you’ll want to stay dry as best as you can. Wear comfortable but disposable shoes. If it rains at all over the four days, Grant Park will turn into a mud-filled swamp, and your shoes may not survive, so don’t wear your new, flashy sneakers. Don’t pick flip flops or heels, either. You’ll likely be on your feet for several hours each day, and the last thing you’ll want is to feel like your feet are going to fall off. Speaking of which, don’t forget to rest every now and then! Get off your feet by finding a comfortable spot to sit in the grass or dirt. It can be near a stage so you don’t miss anything except maybe some sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another. Just be aware that if you stand the entire time and keep walking between stages, your body will take a huge beating and each subsequent day will be a greater struggle than the one before it. Tons of water helps too, so drink more of that than you’re comfortable with and use the park water stations to keep refilling containers for free. Lastly, a word about stage locations. The Grant Park, Lake Shore and Perry’s stages are all on one side of the park. The Bud Light, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, BMI and Pepsi stages are on the other side. It is about a 15 minute walk from one end of the park to the other. Make sure your daily strategy doesn’t involve too much back and forth otherwise you’ll get worn down fast. Similarly, if you want to see the start of a set taking place on the opposite side of the park, you’ll need to head out early to make it in time. With good planning and everything in moderation, you too can survive Lollapalooza weekend without taking a trip to the medical tent or at least feeling like death for days afterward. Now then, let’s get to that day-by-day artist guide!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Recap


The 2017 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival is now officially in the history books. It’s been three incredible days of music, and arguably one of the festival’s best years in recent memory. Sunday brought another fair share of surprises and delights, though one truly disappointing piece of news created a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth day (and weekend). That disappointing news was that experimental electronica duo The Avalanches were forced to cancel their set at the very last minute due to a serious family illness. These things happen, and of course wish nothing but the best for the group and those they care about. It would have been their first-ever show in Chicago, so hopefully they’ll make up the date at some point in the near future (though that would likely be at a separate venue for a separate ticket price). The cancellation resulted in a minor schedule change, moving Jamila Woods from the small Blue stage over to the much larger Green stage to take The Avalanches’ place. More on her performance in the recap below. Please join me after the jump for further details about all the various performances that took place on Sunday. And if you missed the recaps from Friday or Saturday, just click on the links and you’ll be transported directly there. Keep an eye out for photos posts here within the next few days.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Saturday Recap


Two days down, one left to go. While I’m always impressed with the general lineup and flow of the schedule for just about any day of the Pitchfork Music Festival on any given year, there was something about Saturday this year that stood out. I had a strange sense of uncertainty about how some of the performances would go, and about how the crowds would react to them. Sometimes you’re expecting a rousing success and instead it turns out to be a tepid mess that nobody likes. Other times you watch an artist pouring his or her heart out while a bunch of people chat instead of paying attention to what’s happening on stage. The music festival world can be a complex and fickle beast. So on a day where it felt like there were more question marks about artists than usual, I’m pleased to report that the entire day went tremendously well. So much so that it handily bested Friday and I can’t imagine Sunday improving upon it. But we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, please join me after the jump for a lengthy summary of every performance I witnessed on Saturday. They’re all sorted by paragraph, with the artist name bolded for easier navigation. I’ll be sharing a full photo set from Saturday at some point in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Recap


Day one of Pitchfork is done, and boy was it a lot of fun. Apologies for that rhyming introduction – I immediately regretted it after I had typed it, but still liked it enough to not delete it. But yes, on the whole it was a delightful day and a great start to another year of the festival. The primary lesson that I learned – well, rather had reinforced on me – was that the best performances always had genuine passion and respect behind them from both the artists and the crowds. There are some examples of the good, the bad, and the middling peppered throughout this recap, so join me on the other side of the jump for a chronicling of all that went down from a musical perspective on the first day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Preview


Here’s the portion of the preview guide where I provide sound and sane advice on how to make the most of your Pitchfork Music Festival weekend. Advice such as: wear lots of sunscreen and drink lots of water. The current forecast isn’t particularly hot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t wind up dehydrated. Try not to drink too much alcohol either, because as fun as that might be for you, most large crowds don’t like drunk people all that much. Plus, it’d be a big help if you wound up remembering everything you did and all the music you saw. To put it another way, drink all you like, just maybe don’t do it to blackout levels. Don’t forget to take a seat at least a couple of times each day. I’d recommend about 15-20 minute sit breaks every 3-4 hours if you’re going to be there all day long. There are some good, grassy spots in the shade at Union Park to hang out under, where you can at least hear, if not see the stages. Your body will thank you for the breaks, and you won’t wind up all sore and aching by the time Sunday rolls around. Make sure to explore! There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening just a short walk away from the stages, so if you’ve got a break between bands be sure to investigate some of the tents. There are posters, books and records all for sale, some companies give out free snacks to anyone passing by, and if your phone battery winds up drained there are some charging stations just in case. Everybody’s friendly and there to have a great time, so I hope you enjoy every aspect of your festival-going experience! Good luck!

So there’s your non-music advice column. Let’s get to the nitty gritty for Sunday, shall we? At this point in the weekend you’re probably a little worse for wear and just want to have a pretty chill final day. The great news is that this can be achieved with relative ease. Follow me after the jump, and we’ll break that schedule down by the hour.

In case you missed it:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Saturday Preview


One of the things I admire most about the Pitchfork Music Festival every year is the dedication to crafting a lineup that’s diverse in style, background and gender. While that is always showcased throughout the entire weekend, it feels particularly prominent on Saturday this year. You can gravitate from rock to folk to funk to pop to R&B to hip hop all in the course of a few hours, and at least half of those artists and bands prominently feature female members. A third have persons of color, though that’s actually the lowest amount of all three days. The point being, other festivals should take note, and make more of an effort to be inclusive. I feel like it creates a better sense of community among the attendees too. The strangers I encounter at Pitchfork Fest every year are among the nicest and coolest people you could ever meet, so don’t be afraid to say hello to me or anyone else.

Okay, let’s get into this preview of Day 2. After dancing yourself clean with LCD Soundsystem the night before, I can understand that it might be hard to get out of bed and be ready to hit it hard first thing the next day, but there are rewards to those willing to show up early. Join me after the jump and I’ll explain why.

In case you missed it:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Preview

Slap on some sunscreen and hose yourself down with bug spray, because Pitchfork Music Festival is starting early this year! Well, a couple of hours earlier than usual. In past years, the opening Friday has always been a shortened day, typically kicking off around 3PM. I’m not exactly sure what the point of that was, beyond letting some people take a half day of work and still make it in time, or perhaps working a full day and not missing too much. Maybe it was also a budgetary concern, as the cost of booking another 3 or 4 artists to fill out the lineup might have been just a touch more than they wanted to spend. Whatever their logic, it seems like the organizers have stopped kidding themselves and are finally ready to extend the overall festival experience by a couple of hours. Gates on Friday open at Noon, and the first artist takes the stage at 1PM.

Of course just because we’re getting a full day on Friday doesn’t mean there are more names on the lineup to help fill that extra time out. Instead, a number of artists at the start of each day will perform unopposed, meaning you’ll have the choice to either watch one specific performance, wander around Union Park and explore other areas of the festival (/drink more/hang with friends), or simply show up late. The choice is yours, but I would strongly recommend arriving early all three days. You’re likely to discover something truly great as a result. There is at least one set starting before 2PM each day that has the potential to be among the best of the entire weekend, and it’d be a shame for you to miss out! Then again at Pitchfork, just about every set is a must-see. Navigating the weekend filled with such great music can be a little challenging, which is why this day-by-day preview guide is here to help! Join me after the jump for a breakdown of Friday’s lineup and schedule, where I’ll do my best to point you in the direction of exciting, fun, and amazing things to do, see, and hear.

ICYMI:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Lineup Playlist

Welcome to the beginning of Pitchfork Music Festival Week 2017! It’s become tradition here on Faronheit in the last few years to spend a full seven days celebrating the three day blissful orgy of music that descends upon Chicago every July in the form of the Pitchfork Music Festival. In my opinion, you won’t find a better curated or more diverse festival lineup anywhere other than Pitchfork. They put their brand and reputation on the line to celebrate great and innovative artists across backgrounds and genres. If you’re unaware or ignorant of the festival, perhaps a glance at some past coverage will provide an accurate impression of how things go each year. We couldn’t be more excited to bring you a complete festival guide all week long on Faronheit, which includes day-by-day previews, day-by-day recaps, plus a whole bunch of photos and other media along the way. Whether you’re headed to Union Park this weekend and are unsure about what bands to see, or are interested in the lineup and are looking to vicariously experience the festival without actually going, the hope is you’ll make this site one of your stops for key information and on-the-ground reporting. It’s a pleasure to put this guide together every year, and I hope it’s reflected in the content posted.

Let’s get started by providing a proper introduction to all of the artists set to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017. After the jump you’ll find a Spotify playlist featuring two songs from every single artist on the linup, along with individual links to websites, music videos and more. The Spotify playlist is ordered by day and set time, while everything else is sorted alphabetically. There are plenty of ways to get to know these artists, but obviously listening to their music is the most important of all. So click some links, stream some songs, and begin your education!

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 coverage:
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

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Tuned In: Jena Friedman

photo by David Szymanski
Tuned In is a feature in which special guests from the world of pop culture share a playlist of songs based on a topic or theme of their choice.

Jena Friedman is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. She’s been a field producer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. She’s written for The Late Show with David Letterman, and is currently hard at work on her first film Serial Dater, starring Imogen Poots and John Cho. She wrote and is directing that one. So yeah, you could say that she’s got a lot of talents, and has been putting them all to good use. It’s left her plate very full, yet you might not know it because she’s not in front of the camera that often.

On a personal level, I found out about Jena Friedman a few years back via her stand-up comedy. She is tremendously funny and possesses that rare quality of being able to make you laugh about some of the darkest and most challenging topics facing our world today. Her recent, pre-election stand-up special American Cunt dives headfirst into politics, feminism, abortion, guns and religion without losing sight of our shared humanity no matter what your personal opinions might be.

After getting her start in comedy here in Chicago more than a decade ago, Jena Friedman is coming back to town next Friday, June 2nd for a set at her old stomping grounds, The Hideout. It is part of the Onion/A.V. Club’s 4th Annual “26th Annual Comedy Festival,” and promises to be a hilarious late night of stand-up with plenty of whip-smart insight about the pitch black turn our world has taken in recent months.

Jena Friedman
Friday, June 2nd at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.)
10:30 PM / $15 / 21+
Buy Tickets

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Show Preview: NE-HI at Empty Bottle [2/24]


It feels like every calendar year there are about two or three local Chicago rock bands that manage to raise their profile high enough to earn attention and praise on a global level. Such hallmarks are important for any local scene as proof it is thriving, and to serve as an inspiration for those little guys trying to get their various music projects off the ground. In 2016 for example, Twin Peaks grew larger than they ever had before, earning steady radio airplay and touring around the globe. The same can be said for Whitney, though those guys had an obvious leg up by forming from the ashes of another higher profile Chicago band Smith Westerns.

So what local rock collective is set to break out in 2017? I’d put my money on the guys in NE-HI. They’ve grown a tremendous amount in the last couple of years, really expanding their sound into new corners beyond Wire-esque post-punk while also giving new focus to their songwriting. It all comes together in spectacular fashion on their sophomore record Offers, which is out on February 24th. Not coincidentally, their tour will lead them straight to the Empty Bottle that very same day for what promises to be an unforgettable hometown album release show.

Beyond sounding prolific and incredibly catchy on record, NE-HI are perhaps best known for their wildly fun live shows. Their songs get transformed into these hulking behemoths on stage that rattle your body in the best sort of way. It makes perfect sense that most of Offers was recorded live to capture that blissful yet intense energy. The riffs are tighter and the hooks that much more addictive than ever before. In certain ways it feels like they’re channeling the sunny and meandering side of Real Estate mixed with the garage rock heft and psychedelia of The Velvet Underground. It works surprisingly well, and I encourage you to check out the tracks below to hear exactly how that shakes out. Also, if you’re in Chicago please come out to the show and support local music!

NE-HI / Deeper / Cafe Racer
Buy Tickets
Friday, February 24th
9PM / $10 (advance) / 21+

Pre-order Offers on Bandcamp

Stay Young

Offers

Sisters

Show Review: Priests, Stef Chura + Blizzard Babies [Beat Kitchen; Chicago; 2/9/17]


“Fuck Trump! Fuck Pence! Fuck Jeff Sessions! Fuck Betsy DeVos! Fuck Steve Bannon!” Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer yells, arms stretched high above her head, middle fingers extended. The crowd at Beat Kitchen cheers loudly in agreement. It’s only a couple songs into the band’s set, but even before that explicit statement Priests have already revealed their rebellious spirit. They tear through songs like someone throwing a tantrum, and it is loud and exhilarating and profound and life-affirming. And that’s so very important, especially in these challenging times.

Later in their set, Greer clarifies her position: “Lots of people want to call us a political band, but we’re trying to distance ourselves from that label. I said those things earlier not because it was a political thing to do, but because it was the human thing to do.” Therein lies the power of Priests. Their music connects because it pushes back against the status quo and encourages exploration beyond our current reality. It asks us, with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the side of the head, to wake up from our complacency and fight for the betterment of ourselves and others. Or, summed up in lyrics from their song “Puff”: “My best friend says, ‘I want to start a band called Burger King,’ and I say, ‘Do it! Make your dreams a reality!'” Oh yeah, and they’re funny sometimes too.

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Show Preview: Priests at Beat Kitchen [2/9]



There’s a phrase that I’ve heard quite a lot in recent months, but particularly since the election and subsequent inauguration of the new President. “This is not normal.” Recite it like a mantra, and continue to remind yourself that those day-to-day pleasures and sense of comfort have given way to a general unease at the state of our country and world. These are dark times, indeed. And we need art and culture more than ever to help us survive and ignite our will to fight for our causes and against injustice. Enter the Washington D.C. punk band Priests. Not only do they present a voice of dissent direct from our nation’s capital, but their debut album Nothing Feels Natural might as well be another way to tell the world “this is not normal.” Of course, despite its timely release, the album was written and recorded well before the terrifying political events of the last couple months. It just seems awfully prescient given the state of our world today. Yet Priests are less of a political band and more of an anti-establishment band, raging against oppression of any type no matter which side of the aisle it falls on. They’re pushing back against the idea of normal, which means different things to different people. And they’ve never sounded more confident.

While it’s relatively easy to classify Priests as a punk band because of their ethos and hard-charging guitars, Nothing Feels Natural feels a little like a departure from the EPs and singles they’ve released in the past. Their sound has become much more nebulous, incorporating a wide variety of elements from a multitude of genres thereby making it more challenging to classify. That’s by design, and it’s part of what makes this band so unique. There’s little regard for adhering to any sort of convention or mining familiar territory unless there’s a real reason to. Part of the fun is guessing where they’ll go next, which is why one minute you’ll get distorted guitars and Katie Alice Greer singing like she’s about to die, and then the next minute you’ll have a full orchestra rising to a gorgeous, jazzy instrumental. Surf rock and saxophones get their due as well, because why not? Varied though the listening experience might be, there’s a very visceral nature to the entire record that holds it steadfast and commands your attention. You can tell they believe in what they’re doing, and understand that even if one fight ends, another one has already begun. We’re all very lucky a band like Priests exists to inspire and remind us that we make our own paths in this life, so stay true to yourself and forget what you think you know about being normal or natural.

Priests are currently on tour in support of their incredibly great new record, and will be in Chicago next Thursday, February 9th. The wonderful Stef Chura as well as Blizzard Babies will be opening. I strongly urge you to check out this all ages show! Details:

Priests / Stef Chura / Blizzard Babies
Buy Tickets
Thursday, February 9th
7PM / $13-16 / All Ages
P.S. – $1 from every ticket purchase goes to Casa Ruby, which helps the LGBT community in the Washington D.C. area.

Show Preview: Mitski + Fear of Men + Weaves at Thalia Hall [11/5]

Photo by Ebru Yildiz
As young adults, we are led believe that with time and age comes a greater sense of maturity, stability and overall well-being. We think our parents have these things figured out, and so will we once we reach their age. If making more money and starting a family of your own count as figuring things out, then that’d be an accurate impression. But in a broader and more emotional sense, we slowly come to the realization that nobody ever truly pulls their life together and we’re all still struggling to make our way in this crazy, mixed up world. Things don’t get easier or clearer, and in many cases get harder and cloudier. The sooner we understand and embrace the chaos, the better we are able to manage it.

The struggle to define our identity and find a path to consistent happiness are the primary themes of Mitski’s latest album Puberty 2. And while songs about depression and anxiety might not sound like much of a good time, the emotions they wring out of you are so relatable and cathartic you can’t help but be compelled to keep listening. Then there’s her overall sonic approach, which feels very ’90s in nature. Distorted guitars and catchy choruses provide some surface sheen, but dissonant noises are also buried in the mix and reveal themselves through close listens. The depth is what keeps you coming back, along with her dynamic vocals, which stretch from smooth crooning to aggressive ferocity to desperate pleas at the drop of a hat. Mitski exercises control in all things, and that’s a big part of what makes her music so brilliant.

That same brilliance translates extremely well in a live setting. Unconstrained from the studio, Mitski’s songs tend to feel like exposed nerves when performed on stage. This rawer, more primal nature reveals alternative interpretations that often change your perspective of the recorded versions without lessening their impact. The drama and intensity are even more heightened along with the fragility as everything consistently teeters on the edge of falling apart. Her voice is the primary conduit for those emotions, but the times when she trades her bass for an electric guitar feel like an ascension to her firing-on-all-cylinders highest self. It is an awesome thing to behold, and if you’ll be in Chicago this Saturday you have the opportunity to do exactly that. Mitski is headlining at show at Thalia Hall, with the excellent Fear of Men and up-and-coming band Weaves also on the bill. Really it’s the rare show where you should arrive early and stay late, because the music will be great from start to finish. Check out the full details and hear some songs below:

Mitski – Your Best American Girl

Fear of Men – Trauma

Weaves – Tick

Mitski / Fear of Men / Weaves
Buy Tickets
Saturday, November 5
8PM / $18 (advance) / All Ages

Show Preview: Dinosaur Jr. + Steve Gunn at Metro [10/8]


Good old fashioned rock n’ roll doesn’t get nearly enough attention these days. People are so interested in finding the next great innovation in genre that they fail to remember that certain styles of music are truly timeless and can still offer fresh surprises at every turn. Not only that, but who’s so jaded they aren’t impressed by a complex guitar solo? It’s a certain skill that very few can truly master, so all credit should be given to those that can. Case in point, this Saturday at the legendary Metro here in Chicago you have the unique opportunity to see two of the greatest rock guitarists still making music today do their thing: J. Mascis and Steve Gunn.

Dinosaur Jr. has been around for what seems like forever, and in the musical world 30+ years kind of is. Of course they were inactive for eight of those years, so that gap decreases their legendary status just a little bit. But that’s neither here nor there, because they’ve been back in action for the last decade and have arguably eclipsed the great work they did in the 80s and 90s that earned them a place among alternative rock royalty such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Mascis may be their anchor, what with his aching vocals and fuzzed out guitar solos that are distinctive enough that you can easily pick them out of a crowd, but don’t discount a force of nature like Lou Barlow, who is a spectacular bassist and singer in his own right (as evidenced by his work in Sebadoh). Should I compliment their drummer Murph too? Oh, sure. He does an excellent job keeping the rhythms tight and heavy in the face of each song’s relative unpredictability. Dinosaur Jr’s new record Give a Glimpse of What Yr Not only reaffirms all of these assertions, and proves their inspiration and creativity remains sharply intact even after all these years. The question at this point is how long that will last. This latest revival of the band has already lasted longer than their first two stints, and with any luck it’ll stick for many more records. Or not. Best to see them while you can. If you’ve never witnessed J. Mascis destroying guitar solo after guitar solo right in front of you, that’s something to put on your bucket list. It’s a genuine joy to watch him and the rest of the band work.

Lesser known but no less talented is Steve Gunn. The Brooklyn-based musician first earned his stripes by playing in Kurt Vile’s band as one of The Violators. Of course he’s also been releasing solo albums for nearly a decade now, at a pace of about one per year. Toss in some collaborative efforts as well, and the guy becomes positively prolific. While much of his early work has been rooted in gorgeous lo-fin instrumentals, by the time 2014’s Way Out Weather arrived he felt like a fully formed entity, complete with a backing band and confident vocals. A big part of what makes Gunn’s music so compelling is his ability to compose these complex folk and rootsy songs while making it all seem completely effortless. Nothing is ever hurried or panicked in both voice and melody. You put on his records while relaxing with a beer on the porch or cruising across the heartland of America. That’s particularly true on his new album Eyes on the Lines, which is thematically embossed with the call of the open road. Simplistic as his songs may seem on the surface, closer listens reveal light touches of psychedelia, krautrock and blues, among other genres. Solos bob and weave through otherwise standard melodies, like eels writhing around in the ocean. Think about My Morning Jacket or a less jam-heavy Grateful Dead or The War on Drugs as bearing similar or shared sonic markers with Gunn and you’ll gain a much better understanding of what he’s all about. In a live setting, it’s equally relaxed and thrilling to watch him work through songs as they divert down unexpected paths and tear through the fabric of expectation. Don’t miss him if you can help it. The Metro show this Saturday is virtually sold out, but here are the details anyways in case you’re lucky enough to get tickets.

Dinosaur Jr. / Steve Gunn / Thalia Zedek Band
Buy Tickets
Saturday, October 8th
9PM / $31 / 18+

If you miss Steve Gunn this weekend, the good news is that he’ll be back in Chicago next Saturday (October 15th) for a performance with Jim Elkington at the Logan Square Food Truck Social. Tickets for that one are $5 and you can find out more information here.

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