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Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: Friday Recap

The first day of the 2019 Pitchfork Music Festival, all anybody could seemingly talk about was the heat. Chicago has been placed under an “Excessive Heat Warning” through Saturday evening, with temperatures reaching into the mid-90s though the “real feel” was just a touch over 100 degrees. So yes, it was hot. Everybody was sweating. Not much could be done about it, though some people took it upon themselves to find ways to keep cool. Fans, both paper and mini portable electric ones, were being used by many. Others brought mist bottles. Some simply felt they were wearing too much, and stripped down to the barest of essentials without resorting to outright nudity. The festival organizers were kind enough to offer up as much free water as you could drink, complete with giant ice tubs packed with bottled water free of charge, as well as water fountains in multiple areas of Union Park. At one point I spotted two large buckets filled with ice and a sign on them that simply said “DUNK”. A few brave souls just went right ahead and plunged their whole heads into them. There were also a few cooling buses available so people could have a seat in some air conditioning if they really needed it. Every time I walked past them they looked to be about half full.

One of the saving graces of the day was the Blue stage in general, because it’s a tree-heavy area with plenty of shade. Lots of people took it upon themselves to lay out blankets and just hang out there for much of the day. More than a few were napping somewhat comfortably. While I did see a couple of medical personnel carting somebody away in an ambulance at one point in the late afternoon, the medical tent itself appeared to be pretty quiet for most of the day. I didn’t spot a single person who had collapsed from the heat, and that’s kind of a regular thing that happens at just about every music festival no matter the temperature. People were smart and took care of themselves and others. It’s one of the things I love most about the Pitchfork Music Festival – everyone is super relaxed and friendly and wants to make sure you’re doing okay. We all look out for one another. Hopefully that’s the case again for Day 2 which is expected to be just as hot. But weather and cooling techniques aside, this is a MUSIC festival, and there are a bunch of performances to talk about. So let’s jump right in.

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Show Review: BANKS / Anna Lunoe / SAMOHT [House of Vans; Chicago; 7/11/19]


As summer in Chicago (finally) starts to fully kick in, the Vans House Parties are just getting warmed up. The last couple of months have seen shows curated by everyone from Vince Staples to The Breeders to Julien Baker, with more on the way from Taking Back Sunday, Anderson .Paak, The Rapture, and Converge. Yeah, it’s a pretty stacked lineup. It all happens at the House of Vans Chicago location in the West Loop, and every show is 100% FREE based on capacity and advance RSVP.

Thursday night’s House of Vans show was headlined and curated by alt-R&B artist BANKS, who also happened to be celebrating the release of her new album |||. It marked her first proper show in close to two years, and she used that gap to recharge, write/record new songs, and compose a book of poetry with illustrations (that’s titled Generations of Women from the Moon and will be out soon). Some of her poetry and artwork was on display as part of a special installation at the venue, which was a nice addition (and complement) to the music itself.

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The Wax Trax! Experience [House of Vans; Chicago; 4/13/19]


All of us have two families in our lives: the ones we’re born into, and the ones we choose. The strength of each is determined largely by upbringing and instinct, though coming from a loving household doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always have loving friends, and vice versa. What we’re all ultimately looking for in others is a shared connection, be it through blood, interests, or experiences.

Music often functions as one of life’s great connectors, because it’s easy to bond over a song based on the feelings it evokes when listening to it. Technology has made it easier than ever to not only find and share new music, but interact and make new friends with people from around the globe who share your passion. That wasn’t possible thirty years ago, yet music fans still found one another thanks in large part to places like concert venues and record stores.

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Show Review: Avey Tare [Co-Prosperity Sphere; Chicago; 4/6/19]


One of the things I admire most about Avey Tare (Dave Portner) is his lack of complacency. At no point in his solo work or as a member of Animal Collective has he adhered to expectation or perceived boundaries, and that wild card nature has often resulted in brilliance (with the occasional misstep). You’re never quite sure where he’ll evolve to next, but can rest assured it will never be boring.

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Show Review: Cloud Nothings + The Courtneys [Thalia Hall; Chicago; 12/14/18]



We’re quickly approaching the two-year anniversary of The Courtneys’ excellent sophomore album II, and they’re still touring in support of it. Their commitment is admirable, and the reward is hopefully a wealth of new fans eager to hear more from the Canadian trio. A stop at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Friday night actually marked the end of their tour with Cloud Nothings, so they celebrated with a wildly fun performance that perfectly balanced their winning charm and sadder sensibilities.

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Show Review: Preoccupations + Protomartyr [Thalia Hall; Chicago; 12/6/18]


“I’m learning to like Chicago,” Protomartyr singer Joe Casey said toward the end of the band’s set at Thalia Hall on Thursday night. Protomartyr hail from Detroit, which has a storied Midwestern rivalry with Chicago, so the minor bit of animus is understandable. He also may have been kidding, but his detached demeanor on stage made it difficult to tell. That’s by design of course, befitting a singer and band that crafts songs so relentless and emotionally intense they often seem on the verge of total collapse. You can’t allow your feelings to become too invested when performing songs about the ails of the world, lest they hold you in a masochistic pit of despair.

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Show Review: Car Seat Headrest [Riviera Theatre; Chicago; 9/7/18]


There’s something different about Will Toledo these days. It’s not so much a look as it is a feeling. He seems freer, happier, and more energized on stage than he ever has before – or at least compared to the couple of other times I’ve seen Car Seat Headrest perform. And while there are any number of reasons why this might be the case, my sneaking suspicion has to do with Naked Giants. Specifically, their presence as openers and additional members of Car Seat Headrest has shifted dynamics in a very exciting direction.

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Show Review: The Kills [House of Vans; Chicago; 5/19/18]

Photo credit: Daniel Boczarski

It’s equal parts astounding and impressive that The Kills have been around for 15 years. For a band formed on the perilous dynamic of Alison Mosshart’s wildly frenetic, outsized vocalist and Jamie Hince’s ultra-cool, blues-indebted guitar work, one can envision a world where they burn out quickly over two or three impressive records then leave behind a beautiful corpse. Thankfully they’re smarter than that, and their longevity can be credited, at least in part, to their commitment to evolution while still maintaining the core tenets of their sound. No two Kills records sound the same, but you also wouldn’t think any of them were made by a different band.

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The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

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Show Review: The National [House of Vans; Chicago; 10/30/17]

On an exceptionally chilly Monday night on the Near West Side of Chicago, a few hundred people gathered at House of Vans for a remarkably intimate set from The National. The band had flown into town from Europe for a special performance at the Obama Foundation Summit, but arrived a couple days early to give fans an extra special treat. Tickets to the show were being given out for free through an online lottery, and considering the 500 person capacity of the venue, it’s safe to assume that a lot more people entered than actually won. Those with luck on their side were treated to an engrossing and often aggressive performance that skewed towards the dark and political.

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Show Recap: BONZIE at Schubas [6-23-17]


On Friday night, Chicago’s own BONZIE (aka Nina Ferraro) held a record release show at Schubas to celebrate her excellent second album Zone On Nine. It was a wonderful and emotional set filled with powerful songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of traditional singer-songwriter expectations. In an industry full of easy to categorize artists, BONZIE stands out with her unique perspective, captivating voice and experimental arrangements. That she’s chosen to remain independent in spite of offers from record labels speaks volumes about the value she places on independence and doing things her own way. It’s worked well so far, and connected her with local legends such as producer Steve Albini and Tortoise’s John McEntire, as well as international notables including Portishead’s Adrian Utley.

The writing and recording of Zone On Nine took BONZIE on a lengthy journey across oceans and to a myriad of destinations. The music reflects this and is all the better because of it. Her live show is stronger than ever too, as the full band and backup singers created a rich tapestry that perfectly highlighted the complex emotions infused into every song. If the rapturous reactions from all the fans, friends and family in attendance were any indication, there are even greater things in store for BONZIE in the months and years to come. Pick up a copy of the new record, and go see her perform live if you get the chance!

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 Review: M. Ward, Big Thief + Nice As Fuck [Thalia Hall; Chicago; 6/16/16]

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Rare is the high quality triple bill, where it’s worth arriving early and staying late just to see every single second of music. Most of the time it’s easy to glance at the one or two opening acts, not recognize the names, and decide they’re worth skipping so you don’t have to sit through a bunch of stuff you don’t know or care about. Okay, that might be overreaching just a little bit. There are plenty of adventurous music fans who understand that many of today’s openers are tomorrow’s headliners and have a desire to discover new music through live performance. If you’re one of those people, thank you for giving a damn.

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Show Review: Eleanor Friedberger [Space; Evanston; 4/29/16]

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In many ways, it feels like Eleanor Friedberger has been on tour for almost all of 2016 so far. Indeed, a check of her schedule reveals a virtually nonstop string of dates from February through mid-June. In the span of just over two months she’s now played two shows in and around the Chicagoland area, the second of which took place this past Friday at SPACE in Evanston. I was lucky enough to be on hand for that SPACE show, and am pleased to share some photos as well as a few thoughts on the evening.

Friedberger recorded her latest album New View at a farm in upstate New York with the band Icewater. They’ve joined her for this tour, not only opening shows with their own material but pulling double duty as her backing band. Naturally then, more than half her set was comprised of New View songs. She performed nearly every track on the album, along with recent one-off single “False Alphabet City”. All of the new material sounded great, and retained the classic early 70s vibes of The Band and Harry Nilsson without ever seeming tired or unoriginal. Friedberger has enough personality and lyrical prowess to pull every song into unexpected directions, and that dexterity is invigorating even when she’s aimlessly sauntering around the stage.

Admittedly it was also great to hear some older material too. There seemed to be a somewhat renewed focus on Friedberger’s first solo effort Last Summer, which featured some of her catchiest and funkiest material courtesy of songs like “Roosevelt Island” and “My Mistakes”. While the latter song felt just a touch off without a saxophone to add spice, it was still great to hear as a personal favorite of mine. Speaking of personal, 2013’s Personal Record was least represented overall in the set, though having “Stare at the Sun” pop up during the encore was a great way to end the night. Those electric and energetic anthems were missed, but considering the 90% seated, more middle-aged crowd at SPACE, might not have set the right tone for the show anyways.

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After the show, Friedberger and Icewater stuck around the merch table to sell and sign things, as good artists do. Among the fans and well-wishers was a man with his young daughter, who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 12 years old. The girl talked about how much she loved the show, and asked for a photo. The two of them stood side-by-side and leaned up against a door, striking cool poses. What caught my eye was how Friedberger never stopped staring at this girl, a huge grin on her face the entire time. This is who she makes music for. Maybe one day that young girl will be inspired enough pick up a guitar and start writing songs of her own. One can only hope.

Buy New View on iTunes

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Show Review: Local H [Metro; Chicago; 4/15/16]

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Local H is a Chicago rock and roll institution. They’ve been making music steadily for more than two decades now, with eight full lengths and a handful of EPs under the name. And that’s not even counting side projects. It’s the sort of work ethic many would call authentically Midwestern, built on the back of strength and perseverance. I call it aspirational. Most bands would kill to have well-respected careers that last half as long. It seems only right that Local H be celebrated for all of their accomplishments so far, with a continued eye on where they’re headed next.

While 2015 marked the band’s 25th anniversary of existence, 2016 marks yet another important milestone – the 20th anniversary of their big breakout record As Good As Dead. You know, the one with classics like “Bound For The Floor,” “High-Fiving MF” and “Eddie Vedder“. It’s remarkable how vital that album continues to sound today, to the point where it fits in nicely with other grunge-era notables like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. What’s so impressive (and unique) about Local H is how Scott Lucas and Joe Daniels were able to capture all the noise, fury and hooks of their peers with just a single electric guitar and a set of drums. The ability to do more with less has been a trademark of this band since the beginning, and it continues to this very day.
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In honor of As Good As Dead turning 20, Local H have turned the tables a little and decided more is more for once by embarking on a three month U.S. tour where they’ll play that classic album along with other catalog-spanning cuts. Things officially kicked off this past weekend, with a pair of sold out shows at Chicago’s legendary Metro surrounding the record’s actual release date of April 16th. I was lucky enough to attend Friday’s show (Night 1), which wound up being the perfect showcase for why this band is so special.

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