There were a surprising number of people in Union Park at 1:45pm on a Sunday, but I suppose that’s what happens when quality acts are booked to start the day. Porches kicked things off on the Red stage with what can best be described as dance music for lonely people. Indeed, Aaron Maine and his band used synths, bouncy bass lines and the occasional saxophone assist to settle into a groove, and the modest crowd shuffled around entranced while staring at their feet. Many of them may have been nursing hangovers or were simply tired from the previous two days, but at the very least they were moving. While the songs would undoubtedly have sounded even better under the cover of night, Porches still managed to inspire and help people get motivated for one more full day of music.
Tag: live music Page 3 of 6
Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival is set to be just about the sexiest day of any music festival ever. To quote Tracy Morgan, “Somebody’s gonna get pregnant!” The lineup is stacked with all kinds of R&B and freeform jazz that’s designed to put you in the mood for some lovin’. Not sure how perfectly that pairs with sun and 85 degree temperatures, but we’ll find out, right? At least things will be steamy one way or another. If you’ve been to the fest for two days already, the generally slower and more relaxed vibe on Sunday should be a nice change of pace. The slightly later start time than usual is an added benefit. Gates may open at noon, but the first music doesn’t start until 1:45, so sleep in an extra 90 minutes or at the very least stay off your feet for that period of time. As with the other two days though, there are some serious benefits to showing up early and catching those first bands of the day. Join me past the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, and what artists you simply can’t miss.
Thanks for reading. If you’re headed to Pitchfork this weekend, I’ll see you in Union Park!
Let me use today’s introduction to offer a few festival tips and tricks to help you survive the weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. Six years of coverage has helped me get this down to a science, so if you follow my lead I guarantee everything’s gonna turn out great for you (you know, within reason). First, the general outdoor festival stuff. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 3-4 full bottles of water each day. That is a minimum. I know it’s tempting to have a few beers, and you realistically still can, just don’t make that the only liquid you drink all day. You’ll sweat tons in the 80+ degree heat and will be on your feet pretty much all day, so those fluids need to be replenished unless you want to wind up in the medical tent. Next up, sunscreen and bug spray. Use both liberally. If you get sunburned on Friday, the rest of the weekend will be painful. You also don’t want to scratch a bunch of bug bites either, so protect yourself.
Don’t overexert yourself. There’s a temptation to go hard and try to see just about every band. It’s possible too! Union Park isn’t that big, and with three stages you won’t need to do that much walking. Just remember to take breaks and sit down from time to time. Eat food – probably more than you’d otherwise have – to maintan energy while you burn calories. Explore! There’s plenty of fun things to do, including the CHIRP Record Fair, the Flatstock poster sale, Book Fort, Craft Fair and Kids Area. A bunch of brands have tents/booths where free food and merch is given away. Lifeway frozen kefir bars are typically being given away near the basketball court, so that’s a nice cool treat on a warm day. You can probably screen print a t-shirt for free too, if that’s an interest. If you’ve got some down time or don’t like any of the artists performing, wandering around the festival grounds can make for a great time.
So that’s about all I’ve got in terms of tips. Well one more – be good to others! In my experience, everyone at Pitchfork is very chilled out and friendly, so treat them in kind. Join me past the jump for an in-depth, hour-by-hour look at the schedule for Saturday. There’s plenty of great stuff to recommend.
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.
For those who know a thing or two about the indie electronica scene, the trio known as Moderat have every right to be called a supergroup. Their name is a combination of the two projects from which they’ve sprung, specifically Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) and Apparat (Sascha Ring). Separately, they’ve released some of the most dynamic minimalist electronic music of the last decade. Together as Moderat, they’ve crafted three full lengths and an EP, a majority of which was spent testing out new and experimental directions with varying results. It seemed to be a product of them trying to feel each other out rather than a lack of competence or care. Just because three people can make really great music on their own doesn’t mean they’ll immediately work well together. On their new record III, it seems they’ve finally reached the next level of their collaboration, resulting in one of the most sonically cohesive and engaging collections of beat-driven tracks this year.
Sonically the songs on III fall somewhere on the ambient electronic soul spectrum between Four Tet, James Blake, Burial, Jamie Woon and Atoms For Peace. That’s a lot of quality references that for the most part feel earned. Beats skitter, vocals soar, synths glide, and a wounded sort of sexiness oozes from just about every note. Fans of The xx will find plenty to love as well. That beautiful darkness also lends itself to dramatic performances. Unlike the candy-coated laser beam dance parties of today’s EDM festival headliners, Moderat use style and substance to channel an epic intimacy that you’ll want to dance to. Powerful visuals projected behind the trio, combined with staccato lighting effects and liberal use of smoke machines create just the right sort of atmosphere to elevate the songs to an otherworldly level. It’s an intoxicating mixture that means their live shows are less performance and more experience.
Moderat will be transforming minds and hearts at Concord Music Hall this Saturday, May 21st. Not to be missed if you can help it! Teflon Tel Aviv and Abstract Science open. Details:
Moderat, Teflon Tel Aviv and Abstract Science
Saturday, May 21
9PM / $25 (Advance) / 18+
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.
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.
Let’s start with the basics. Cross Record is the wife and husband duo of Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski. They are based out of Dripping Springs, Texas (near Austin), where they own and run a ranch and recording studio. It’s where they crafted their latest album Wabi-Sabi, out now on Ba Da Bing! Records. If you’ve not yet heard it, stream “Steady Waves” and “High Rise” to get a better idea of what they’re all about.
The dark-tinged experimental folk that populates the record falls somewhere on the strange spectrum between Cocteau Twins, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, Mount Eerie, Chelsea Wolfe, PJ Harvey and Here We Go Magic. That may touch on a lot of different sonic markers, but the nebulous nature of their songs defies easy description. Each one is inherently beautiful, yet also raw, obtuse and deeply emotional with a sense of danger or evil lurking just underneath the surface. That’s a large reason why the album’s title is so appropriate, as it’s a Japanese phrase meaning the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
Cross Record’s show at Schubas this Saturday will mark something a homecoming for the duo, as they lived in Chicago until a couple of years ago. Their notoriety has increased considerably since their last visit thanks to the release and critical acclaim of Wabi-Sabi, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new songs shape the overall performance. No matter what, it’s certain to be a special night you’re not going to want to miss.
Cross Record, The Loom and Blind Moon
10 PM / $10 ($12 Doors) / 21+
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.
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.
If Autolux fans have learned anything about the L.A. trio since their 2004 debut album Future Perfect, it’s that they take their sweet time. In their case, the preferred incremental gap seems to be six years, which embodies the period it takes them to write and record new music, then tour in support of it. The space occurred between Future Perfect and 2010’s Transit Transit, then once more leading up to the just-released Pussy’s Dead, their third full-length in a dozen years. Frustrating as the wait can be sometimes, the time they take to refine and gestate their sound tends to shine through on their recordings. Six years is more than enough of a gap to allow for different genres to grow and decline, so each time Autolux re-emerges from their self-imposed stasis the music landscape is completely different. Yet while their sound continues to evolve from album to album, it is clearly not dictated by trends. Similar to their peers and friends in Radiohead, Portishead and My Bloody Valentine, they follow their own path and wait for the rest of the world to catch up to them.
Outside of a music festival or a special radio session, have you ever been to an indoor concert with a late afternoon start time? I can’t recall ever attending a show before 7:30pm, and would imagine that spending time at a venue when the sun is out would feel a bit weird. Yet sometimes it’s necessary, I guess, particularly if said venue is double booked for the evening. Apparently Chicago’s own Bottom Lounge does that on occasion, typically on weekends when a majority of people aren’t at work. Saturday, April 9th is one of those occasions, with a triple bill worth not only my money but yours as well.
The first thing you need to know is that it’s going to be an emotional evening, in addition to being an early one. All three artists set to perform have released deeply personal, introspective records in the last year, and received a fair amount of critical acclaim for each. First on the lineup is Your Friend, otherwise known as Taryn Miller. Though her pseudonym can be a challenge to find via traditional search engines, she and her impressive debut album Gumption are worth seeking out. The music she makes could be considered experimental folk, as there’s a fascinating dichotomy between the traditional and non-traditional, the intimate and the expansive, the calm and the chaotic. Strip them down to their bones and you’ve got a single guitar and a voice, but the use of loops, found sounds, electronics, drones and other elements twist and obscure that in beautiful ways while revealing layers of untold depth. The lyrics are reflections on the self, how we present ourselves to the world and the courage it takes to change. Listen to the song “Heathering” below to capture a better idea of Your Friend’s particular aesthetic. It’s definitely worth showing up early to check out her set.
The meat in this musical sandwich is Alex G, the shortened moniker of Alex Giannascoli. The 21-year-old Philadelphia native started to receive a fair amount of attention in 2014 with the release of DSU, his first album that was properly mastered and released on an actual label. Prior to that, he self-recorded and self-released more than a handful of other full lengths and EPs via Bandcamp, very much fitting the definition of a DIY bedroom singer/songwriter. His lo-fi, often hangdog approach has earned him comparisons to Elliott Smith and Pavement in the past, though his sharper experimental leanings on last fall’s Beach Music took things in a much darker and uncommercial direction. It’s an interesting change considering this marked his highest profile release to date and Domino Records debut. Still, there’s plenty to like if you can get past some of the odd choices he makes with vocal modulation. For example a song like “Bug” would probably have been even better if some chipmunk-styled vocals didn’t pop up for no apparent reason. Still, beyond some small missteps on the new album, his past catalog is remarkably solid and worth your exploration. The same could be said about his live performances.
New Yorker Aaron Maine is the man behind the Porches name. It’s a project that’s been around for close to a decade now, but similar to Alex G is just starting to hit it big. Prior to the release of his Domino debut Pool earlier this year, Maine put out at least eight records, though it’s a little tough to put together an official count given that at least a couple seem to have (mostly) vanished from the internet. In many ways it feels as if those previous albums were all in preparation for this new one, which has earned a wealth of critical acclaim and placed Porches on an exclusive list of rising artists. The songs on Pool might best be described as dance tracks for lonely people. You could also use the album title to show the fluidity and spacious grandeur that a majority of the tracks exhibit. Synths and other electronics surge and swirl, while guitars, when present, are often relegated to the background. It’s a bit of a departure for Maine, whose earlier efforts were more entrenched in the world of lo-fi folk. The directional shift is all too purposeful, yet still manages to capture the intimacy and introspection that Porches has been known for across earlier efforts. Take a listen to “Car” and “Be Apart” below to get a better grasp on the magic of Porches.
So there you have it, a rundown of the three dynamic artists set to perform at Bottom Lounge early on a Saturday evening in April. Show up early, see some quality performances, then grab dinner after. Nice and easy. Here are the fine details:
Porches, Alex G & Your Friend
5:30 PM / $15
Ty Segall is nothing if not prolific. You could easily call him one of the hardest working musicians today, and his output helps prove it. As an example he released four albums between 2012 and 2013, and at least one full length every year since then. If he’s not putting something out under his own name, he’s creating or joining other bands. Last fall he made a record with one of his side bands Fuzz, and already this year he’s put out Emotional Mugger under his own name. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s got at least one more full length ready to go before the end of 2016. Perhaps the most insane thing about all of it is how generally great and varied every release has been. I legitimately can’t recall having heard a single bad Ty Segall-involved album in the last few years…maybe ever. Along the way he’s managed to make himself into a bit of an amorphous element, upending expectations at just about every turn. Just when you think another album of fuzzed out psych-rock is on the way, he picks up an acoustic guitar and explores folk or leans hard in the opposite direction by giving metal a try. He takes to all of it like a fish to water, and even plays different instruments depending on the particular song or project.
The fatal flaw with all of Segall’s efforts is that he may be giving listeners too much of a good thing. His constant progress has created a set of unrealistic expectations, and may even be diluting what he does give us. For example, if he puts out another album in 6-8 months, will it lessen the appreciation and repeat listenability of Emotional Mugger? Can having so much available material in too short of a time span make it difficult to focus on and figure out what truly stands out and is special about it? I suppose it’s up to each one of us to decide how much we can digest, and try to manage as best we can.
When he’s not in the studio, Segall can typically be found on the road. He tours in the same way he records – like a madman. Live shows are almost always brute force displays of strength, primal in nature and loud in volume. Guitars are always at a maximum level of fuzz, and drums suffer the sort of abuse that leave you concerned they could give out at any moment. When he’s behind the microphone, Segall’s voice wails and screams right along with everything else, so what comes out of the speakers could best be described as an auditory weapon of mass destruction. If you’re standing in the right spot, his songs may motivate parts of the crowd to erupt into massive mosh pit(s), layered with body surfers for good measure. It can be a brutal, full body experience that’s not for everybody. If you’re not a physical person, stand away from those who prefer jumping around. If loud music makes you worry about your hearing, wear earplugs. No sense in denying yourself the pleasure and invigorating life force of a Ty Segall show if you enjoy his music. It’s actually quite remarkable to see his songs played on a stage in front of an audience, because it enhances what you might otherwise hear through headphones or speakers in the comfort of your bedroom. That might be the way to most fully appreciate the man and all he’s done for music these last few years.
Ty Segall performs two nights at Thalia Hall next week. Details and ticket info are below. Don’t miss this!
People are so eager to affix artists with labels. They provide an easier way to understand what artists do, so outsiders can better determine if it might be right for them. As time marches forward and old ideas become new again, there are those that fight against such traditions, seeking to carve their own paths outside of the familiar. Pictures, words and sounds require a certain level of accessibility to establish an audience, but new twists on old favorites can usher in advancements and inspire others to do the same.
Marlon Williams is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand who is not so easily defined or labeled. Despite being in his mid-20s, many have called him an “old soul” based on the mature themes and influences that permeate his music. As with most who have grown up in the age of the mp3, such increased access allows you to explore anything and everything your heart desires. Even in the small coastal town where he grew up, the soundtrack of his youth included PJ Harvey, Smokey Robinson, Elvis, The Beatles and Gram Parsons mixed in with traditional Maori and gospel songs thanks to his time in a church choir. Williams’ father was also in a punk band, which most assuredly left an impression as well.
So after consuming so much and so many different styles and genres of music, it makes perfect sense that Williams is something of a sonic polymorph. Those quick to judgment have been saying his recently released self-titled album falls under the country or alt-country umbrella, but the reality is so much deeper and more varied. You can hear flourishes of folk, Americana, bluegrass, gospel, soul, rock and even punk twisted into this remarkable tapestry that transcends such easy definitions. At the heart of it all is that powerful voice, which anchors every song with purpose and meaning no matter what direction it takes. Case in point: he covers Nina Simone’s “When I Was A Young Girl” better than anyone I’ve ever heard outside of the original version. It’s striking and very Tim/Jeff Buckley-esque, to the level where it gave me (and I hope you) chills.
Following a sold out tour through Australia and New Zealand, Marlon Williams is now seeking to break out internationally with a tour that takes him around the globe in 2016. He’s currently making his way through North America, which includes a stop at Schubas Tavern this upcoming Wednesday, February 10th. Woodrow Hart & The Haymaker opens. This is a prime opportunity to see a rising star before he blows up, so do yourself a favor and don’t miss this show!
Marlon Williams with Woodrow Hart & The Haymaker
Wednesday, February 10
8PM / 18+ / $12
It’s been just over eight months since Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) released her sophomore album Sprinter, and I’m fairly certain she hasn’t left the road since then. At the very least, as of this past weekend she’s played three shows in Chicago over that time period – easily more than most non-local artists. I’d argue it’s the town that keeps drawing her back, but exceptional circumstances such as a tour opening for Garbage likely brought her back sooner than anticipated. This particular time she was asked to return for the Tomorrow Never Knows festival, a multi-day, multi-venue event focused on raising the profiles of up-and-coming bands/musicians. This is also known as “something for Chicagoans to do in the dead of winter when concert season is slow.” For the record, it’s a great way to pass the time with plenty of great live music. The triple bill of Torres, Palehound and Julien Baker is just a small testament to that, as all three left a sharp impression on 2015 with highly personal, emotionally devastating albums. It made me concerned I’d be walking out of Lincoln Hall on Friday night a shell of a human being, my insides shredded from so much anguish. Thankfully that wasn’t entirely the case.
The night began with an opening solo set from Julien Baker. Her debut album Sprained Ankle earned her a place on many “Best of” lists last year, with special attention paid to her powerful and raw lyrics delivered with the nuance of a strong gut punch. In a stunning six song set, Baker wrenched every bit of emotion from each moment. The packed room stood in hushed silence as the weight and beauty slowly became too much to bear. It was an incredibly compelling example of how a performer can fully connect with an audience and even drive a few to tears. My own eyes began to well up towards the end, and that’s a rarity. The 19-year-old Baker is undoubtedly a talent worth following with a long career ahead of her. This was her first-ever show in Chicago, and judging by how many people bought her record at the end of the night, it certainly won’t be her last.
After the delicate sadness that was Julien Baker’s set, it seemed like Palehound wanted to deal with serious emotional fallout in a completely different way. Very few of their songs could be considered delicate, instead opting for a much darker, angrier tone spiked with heavier ’90s style grunge guitars in the vein of Hole or (most accurately) Speedy Ortiz. Ellen Kempner doesn’t take relationships lightly, so getting emotionally wounded after a break-up fosters aggression and resentment rather than clear-cut sadness and depression. That’s what the record Dry Food is all about, and it hits hard. So too does the band’s live show. While Kempner played a few songs solo with just her and an electric guitar, a majority of the time she was joined by a bassist and drummer who helped flesh out many of the songs and give those wounds an extra little twist of the knife. The trio dynamic also allowed Kempner to take some sonic detours on songs like “Easy” and “Molly” with some solos that really gave the crowd a taste of her profoundly excellent guitar skills. While it certainly left me impressed in the first half of the set, things calmed down a bit towards the end, which would’ve been disappointing if this alternate side wasn’t equally as compelling. At one point we were treated to a new song she hadn’t played live before, taking care to note that it was written more recently when someone new had come into her life and changed her outlook in a more positive direction. It was just about the only love song that would be played all evening, and offered a glimpse into where Palehound might be headed next. No matter how things progress in terms of content or subject matter, the band made it pretty clear on Friday night that they are highly talented and a force to be reckoned with now and in the future. Don’t be surprised if you hear plenty about them in 2016 and beyond.
The biggest benefit of touring incessantly is that you develop a much stronger stage presence. That is to say you learn what works and what doesn’t to help create the best, most entertaining and engaging version of your live show as possible. Given that Mackenzie Scott spent a majority of her time on the road in 2015, it makes perfect sense that she’s all the better performer because of it. When I caught her last May, it was mere weeks after the release of Sprinter and there were clear indications she was still feeling things out a bit with the new songs. These are growing pains every artist goes through, and some handle it much better than others. In the case of Torres, eight months ago she sounded great and put on a confident, strong show, but a few small things like the set list could have used some adjustment. Specifically, the overall pacing was a little off, and there were a few moments when it felt like Scott was holding back just a bit. For all I know it could have been the circumstances of that particular day, mixing things up on tour for the sake of variety. No matter the factors, by all accounts the set on Friday at Lincoln Hall represented an increase in consistency and showmanship.
The somewhat ironic thing is that the set list was nearly the same as the previous Torres show last May, just the order of the songs had changed slightly. That served well to even everything out and create a clearer path from start to finish. From the slow burn opening salvos of “Mother Earth, father God” through the clawing descent of “The Harshest Light,” the nine song set felt very much like a journey into and out of darkness. The 1-2-3 punch of “New Skin,” Cowboy Guilt” and “Sprinter” slammed with the force and subtlety of a wrecking ball, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake. The weight of these songs also physically manifested itself through Scott’s body as she visibly trembled during the more intense moments of the set. This was particularly prominent during the back-to-back combination of “Son, You Are No Island” and “Strange Hellos,” the former of which was all underlying dread and the latter of which was all powerful, fiery release. For those few loudly punctuated minutes, everyone in the room was rapt with attention as the walls were painted with sheer ferocity and self-confidence. This was Torres at her most vital, suddenly coming into focus and finding her footing after wandering around lost in the darkness. Such a captivating catharsis contributed to what was the best Torres show I’ve seen to date. Can’t wait for the next one.