The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: live Page 1 of 9

Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Sunday Preview Guide

And just like that, the 2021 Pitchfork Music Festival officially kicks off tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a long road to get here, and things will certainly feel a bit different this year, but let’s appreciate the fact that it’s able to happen. My introduction to the Sunday preview guide always includes tips on how to enhance your festival experience, so here’s the 411. If this were happening in mid-July as usual, I’d say that your top priority should be staying hydrated. Technically that remains true in September too, just the temperatures will be more manageable and you won’t be sweating as much. Drink plenty of water and you’ll feel better every day. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. It seems obvious, but people forget. Bring a poncho, ideally one you can keep folded in your pocket. Rain is always a possibility, even if it’s just a pop up shower. And of course have your mask and either a proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test at the ready because you won’t get in without them.

If you’re not interested in watching performances all day long and need a bit of a respite, there are other activities on the grounds of Union Park to distract yourself. There are lots of food and beverage options. You can stop by sponsored tents/kiosks with games you can play or free stuff being given away. The CHIRP Record Fair has plenty of vinyl and other music goods you can check out. The Flatstock Poster Fair brings in artists from all over the country showing off and selling posters they’ve created for concerts and other things. There’s also the Renegade Craft Fair, which showcases a bunch of handmade goods from artisan crafters. You may just find a cool little tchotchke to carry around with you for the duration of the festival and beyond. So yes! If you’re headed to Union Park this weekend, I hope you’ll have a blast and stay safe for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. For those of us focused on the music, here’s the guide to what you’ll see and hear on Sunday.

Easy Access: Lineup Playlist, Friday Preview Guide, Saturday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Saturday Preview Guide

Saturday at Pitchfork 2021 should be a little weird and a little fun, which honestly is kind of right in this festival’s wheelhouse. The diversity of artists increases from Friday, but the number of genres represented decreases overall despite a few acts that blur a lot of lines with experimentation. The day builds in energy early but then hits a small speedbump in mid-afternoon before picking back up again to close things out. The Blue stage is the place to hang out if you’re interested in high quality rap and R&B, while Red and Green will focus largely on rock acts. Unfortunately there aren’t really any electronic acts on Saturday, but if you really want to dance I’m certain you can find a way.

There are some major schedule conflicts on Saturday that may be difficult to navigate for the astute music listener, however the good thing is that the stages are close enough you can easily split your time between them and not have to worry about missing too much. I’ve done my best to help you make some hard decisions with some descriptions and recommendations below. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to challenge yourself in some way by checking out an artist you’ve never heard or seen in concert before. If you’re not enjoying a set, just walk away. There’s almost always another stage in action, and if not, you can explore the grounds of Union Park a bit and maybe get some food. Don’t hesitate to seek out “Better Distractions”, as Faye Webster would call them. Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s lineup, broken down by hour and conflicts.

Easy Access: Lineup PlaylistFriday Preview GuideSunday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Friday Preview Guide

On paper, and perhaps in execution, Friday seems like it’ll be a somewhat strange day at Pitchfork Music Festival. The lineup and the way it’s organized is kind of all over the place from a genre perspective. Rap that tests the limits of the art form, electronic stuff to get you dancing, hard-nosed punk to rev up the energy, psychedelic/experimental to cool you down, and of course emotionally heavy indie rock that may bring tears to your eyes. That level of sonic diversity is not for the faint of heart, but pays dividends to those willing to explore and test their own limits. It should be a whole lot of fun, too!

If you’re planning to attend the festival and are at all unsure about what artists to see during what time of day, my hope is that this preview guide will help you make some critical decisions. I’ve broken Friday’s lineup down by hourly time slot, and included my personal recommendations on what’s worth checking out in case you need it. Really though, it’s all pretty fantastic and there are no wrong choices. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss on Friday, which basically amounts to encouraging you to show up early.

Easy Access: Lineup PlaylistSaturday Preview GuideSunday Preview Guide

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.

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.

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!

Show Review: Autolux [Empty Bottle; Chicago; 4/9/16]

autolux6
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.

Show Review: Torres, Palehound + Julien Baker [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 1/15/16]

torres116
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.
baker2
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.
pale3
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.
torres117
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.
torres127
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.

Buy Sprinter on iTunes

Show Preview: Torres at Empty Bottle [5/21]

Photo by Shawn Brackbill


Have you heard the new Torres record Sprinter yet? If not, immediately put that on your list of priorities for the week. This sophomore effort takes everything about Mackenzie Scott’s project and harnesses it into something that’s equal parts intense, spiritual and personal. She’s gotten much louder and more aggressive compared to her folk-centric debut, and her lyrics have gone from vague, possibly untrue stories to very specific diary-like entries. To put it another way, a curtain has been torn down, and we’re now hearing more of the living, breathing Torres than ever before. Throw some credit to producer Rob Ellis for helping turn Sprinter into one of the better things 2015 has had to offer so far. Ellis is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, who’s probably as good of a reference point as any to what this album sounds like.

Prior to the release of the record, Torres played a number of shows primarily during and surrounding SXSW in March. The reason it’s worth mentioning is because not only were those performances offering previews of what Sprinter would sound like, but they also felt like something of a coming out party for Scott, the hype building at a fast and furious rate by catching the attention of all the right people. Simply put, Torres has become a hot commodity. Not that she wasn’t back in June of 2013 when she came through Chicago for a show at the Empty Bottle, but like her new record everything is bigger and the shouts of taste makers are louder this time around. She’ll be making a triumphant return to the Bottle next Thursday (May 21st), and all indications are it will be a very exciting and powerful evening. You should definitely be there if you’re in town. It’s a 21+ show, starts at 9PM and tickets are only $10 in advance. Buy them here and thank me later. And just in case you need a little more coersion, stream a couple of the new songs below.

Show Preview: Lady Lamb at Schubas [5/6]


We’re knee-deep in the spring concert season, and great shows are blooming up just about everywhere you look. Case in point, about three weeks from now Lady Lamb (aka Aly Spaltro) will be rolling through Chicago for a headlining performance at Schubas. If you’re not familiar with Lady Lamb and her music, allow me to provide a little bit of background. The year was 2013 when a young upstart from Maine unleashed her debut studio album Ripely Pine under the moniker of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. It was a critically acclaimed work of depth and complexity, anchored by Spaltro’s harrowing vocals and lyrical poems that were intensely personal and powerful. A song like “Bird Balloons” does a fantastic job of capturing all of those qualities, to the point where I named it one of my favorite songs of 2013. This year heralded a new record called After, and the dropping of “the Beekeeper” from her name, most likely for the sake of verbiage. But just because she’s no longer tied to bees doesn’t mean she never gets stung. The album focuses on loss, be it a relationship, friends, family or even your sense of home. Spaltro gets even more personal with her reflections, and ferocious in her melodies. Perhaps the best thing about it though is how it manages to surprise at almost every turn, with many of the songs morphing over their duration so you never quite know what to expect. Take a listen to “Spat Out Spit” and “Billions of Eyes” (below) to better understand Lady Lamb’s sound and unique style. She’s more than worth checking out in a live setting too. Back in 2013 I had the privilege of seeing her open for Torres at the Empty Bottle, and it was an impressive showcase of her talents. Not only did Spaltro perform completely solo, but she managed to bring the entire room to complete silence by belting out her opening song completely a capella without even the use of a microphone. There’s just so much fire and passion in her voice that you’re compelled to stop whatever you’re doing and just soak it in. It’s my understanding that with this current tour there are some backing musicians to help flesh out the new songs a bit more, and maybe even add a bit of extra power. In short, you’re probably not going to want to miss this stop at Schubas on Wednesday, May 6th. There are very few tickets remaining for the show, so jump on it quick. Tickets are $12, it’s an 18+ show, and starts at 9PM. Hope to see you there!

Show Preview: Foxygen at Metro [4/9]


Let’s not sugar coat this: Foxygen aren’t for everyone. They’re the sort of band that thrives on doing their own thing and not apologizing for it, which can really rub some people the wrong way. If you want to listen to and enjoy music that’s safe and comfortable that’s fine, but if unsafe and uncomfortable music is more up your alley, then by all means give Foxygen a try. Their 2013 album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic represented the band at the height of their powers, taking cues from classic artists like The Rolling Stones and The Kinks while at the same time blurring lines between psych-pop, soul, funk, gospel and straight-up rock. They took that smorgasbord of influences and doubled down both figuratively and literally with last year’s …And Star Power. Across two discs and 24 tracks, Foxygen had crafted something akin to a 70’s glam rock concept record along the lines of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy. Of course both those albums are classics, while Foxygen’s latest effort was met with more of a collective sigh from many critics and fans. Much of the good will the band had amassed the year prior had been wiped away by that point anyways, thanks to band in-fighting, shows being cancelled and an overall sense of fatigue that came with spending too much time on the road. Some artists progress slowly and steadily, while others push themselves to extremes and flame out quickly and in spectacular fashion. For all practical purposes, Foxygen appear to be the latter.

Last week they let everyone know via Twitter that this will be their final tour. Now before you go crying tears of sadness or joy, depending on your opinion of the band, I think it’s important to remember the following: they may not be 100% serious about it. Allow me to offer up a reasonable explanation. Upon the release of …And Star Power last fall, Foxygen decided to go all-out spectacle with their tour in support of it. They put together a true production with a large crew, elaborate stage design and extra band members that included backup singers/dancers. Then they kind of but not really changed their name. I’m not sure if they settled on Foxygen and Star Power or simply just Star Power, but to avoid confusion everyone kept calling them just plain Foxygen anyways, so it doesn’t matter so much. Upon claiming that this is their “final tour,” that could have multiple meanings. Will this be the final tour in support of the …And Star Power record? Will they be breaking up “Star Power” only to reform again as Foxygen? Will they simply be ending their extravagant live show with extra band members and will scale back to normal? It could be any/all of those things, none of which truly spell the end of Foxygen. More than anything, I’m convinced they’ll disappear for a few years, then resurface with a new album.

Whatever they choose to do, it’s likely to be interesting if not a bit bothersome and annoying. But that shouldn’t stop you from going to see Foxygen play what could be their final show in Chicago on April 9th at Metro. At the very least it’ll be the last time they come through town for the foreseeable future with a whole big event-style performance. To give you at least a taste of what that might entail, check out their visit to Letterman from back in January where they blew him away with “How Can You Really”. Pretty great, right? Anyways, tickets to their show at Metro are $18 in advance and can be purchased here. It’s an 18+ show and starts at 9PM, just so you’ve got all the necessary details. I hope to see you there!

Show Review: Cursive [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 3/18/15]


Multiple studies done over the last decade have pretty much all determined that our own personal tastes in music become established between the ages of 14 and 24. As these are the most formative years of our lives, from puberty to the completion of our education in high school and college to the friends and social groups we settle into, it makes sense that this would be a testing ground for the kinds of music we like. The reason I bring this up is because at the tender age of 19 I discovered the band Cursive. To be fair, I discovered a LOT of bands at that age and have continued to for a good decade since, but for one reason or another Cursive holds a special place in my heart. Their 2003 concept(ish) album The Ugly Organ very blessedly blurred the lines between alt-rock, indie, punk and emo so it provided a rather easy entry point for music fans of all stripes and colors. Working at a college radio station in the Midwest also brought the band to my attention, and few were the days when you couldn’t find me in the DJ booth jumping around to “Art Is Hard” as it blasted over the airwaves. ‘Twas a simpler time. But I digress. The point being, The Ugly Organ was a record I really got into and apparently a whole lot of others did as well. So much so the band decided to reissue it last fall with a bunch of bonus material, and follow it up this winter/spring with a two month U.S. tour in celebration. The band finally reached Chicago at the tail end of that for a sold out show at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night. Here’s what happened. (cue Law & Order ::dun dun::)

One of the more noteworthy things about The Ugly Organ is that it’s Cursive’s only release that prominently features the cello. The band recruited cellist Gretta Cohn in 2001 to play on the record and tour in support of it, but in 2005 she left to pursue other interests and was never replaced. While Cohn did play a show or two with Cursive recently when they stopped in New York (where she now lives), she hasn’t rejoined the band or anything like that. The good news is that all of the other stops on this tour did have a cellist to help ensure that the album was properly brought to life, not to mention the bonus of adding cello parts to a bunch of other songs across the Cursive catalog.

Unlike a majority of bands who have adopted the trend of performing a classic album from front to back, Cursive decided to shake things up a bit because they didn’t want to be like everyone else. That was clear right from the beginning of their set, which kicked off with “Sink to the Beat” from 2001’s Burst and Bloom EP followed by “Big Bang” from 2006’s Happy Hollow. Those were but a couple of many interesting choices the band made across close to 90 minutes and 21 songs. Yes The Ugly Organ was technically played in full, but there were detours taken along the way to throw the crowd off and celebrate other records in bits and pieces. Of the non-Organ records, 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen got the most love, but not by much. The biggest surprise of the night was probably “Excerpts From Various Notes Strewn Around the Bedroom of April Connolly, Feb. 24, 1997,” a song that appeared on a 2002 split EP called 8 Teeth to Eat You. That, or the song “Nonsense,” which was found on the Saddle Creek 50 compilation. Both of those tracks actually are included in the deluxe reissue of The Ugly Organ so it makes sense that they’d be played, but context aside they’re absolutely rarities and not the sort of songs you expect to be performed live pretty much ever.

As for The Ugly Organ itself, let’s just say it’s the sort of record that holds up really well. The 1-2-3 punch that is “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” into “Art Is Hard” into “The Recluse” still hits with the same force, only this time you’ve got a room full of people shouting along to every single word. “Art Is Hard” in particular is just a powder keg that set a lot of people off. Similar things could be said about the late set heroics from songs like “Bloody Murderer” and “Sierra,” the latter of which kicked off the encore. As great of a time as the crowd seemed to be having, the band looked like they were having a blast too. Frontman Tim Kasher seemed to suggest that the tour had been going on forever and they were all a little worse for wear, but there were no telltale signs outside of a couple small coughing fits that Kasher had between songs. Illnesses can be tough to recover from when you’re on the road and are unable to rest or take really good care of yourself. So long as it doesn’t degrade the performance though, such things are manageable. Turns out a night honoring The Ugly Organ was anything but ugly. It’s my sincere hope that Kasher and the rest of Cursive take inspiration from that record and this tour as they write and arrange material for their next effort. The world could use more albums like it.

Stream “Art Is Hard”

Stream “Am I Not Yours?”

Buy The Ugly Organ deluxe edition from Saddle Creek

Show Review: Wild Child + Pearl and the Beard [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 1/31/15]

Let me set the scene: It’s a Saturday night at the end of January in Chicago. According to the weather reports, something wicked this way comes. Specifically, a monster snowstorm set to pile on more than a foot of the white stuff between Saturday and Monday morning. It has the real potential to be a record breaker too, possibly capturing a coveted spot on the Top 10 biggest snowfalls to ever hit Chicago. Yet in spite of this and the myriad of warnings from meteorologists to avoid travel if possible, the bands Pearl and the Beard and Wild Child still performed in front of a sold out crowd at Lincoln Hall that very evening. We Chicagoans are a tough and proud people, refusing to let winter keep us away from enjoying some live music. Thankfully bands like these are also willing to come around when we’re at our weather worst. So how did it all go, conditions outside notwithstanding? Let me give you the play by play.


Pearl and the Beard are a Brooklyn-based trio with a fascinating dynamic and sound. While Jocelyn Mackenzie handles drums, Jeremy Lloyd-Styles plays guitar and Emily Hope Price does the cello and keyboards, when it comes to vocals there is no technical frontman or frontwoman or lead singer. All three of them are equally talented at their individual instruments, yet can also belt out a song with ease. They may all take turns behind the microphone, but more often than not add a little extra grace and beauty to their songs with some highly impressive harmonies. The cello goes a long way to contribute some additional beauty as well, all of these things contributing to the band’s unique and difficult to describe sound. Their set at Lincoln Hall was the final stop on their tour with Wild Child, and though they confessed to being a little bit worn down and sick, as one might expect during a long winter touring cycle, it seemed to have little to no effect on their performance. Just about every note hit with the right inflection and energy, engaging the crowd and encouraging sing-alongs for those familiar with some of their singles. Not being terribly familiar with their records, this show was a bit of an introduction for me, and a pretty positive one at that. Their eclectic approach and style may make them hard to pin down, but quite easy to like. That they all seem to have a pretty great sense of humor helps too, providing a few laughs between songs keeps everybody in a jovial mood. If the handful of new songs they played from their forthcoming record Beast are any indication, 2015 might just be the year that Pearl and the Beard reach a whole new audience.

Buy Pearl and the Beard music on iTunes


As far as headliners Wild Child go, let’s just say that they’ve already built a rabid fan base for themselves. I mean, they probably could have sold out Lincoln Hall without any openers if they had wanted to, and it stands to reason the next time they come through Chicago it’ll be at a significantly larger venue. What’s fascinating to me is that they’ve done all this with no radio support or mentions from a number of prominent music publications. Still, NPR has really championed them, and most of their singles have gotten a massive amount of streams on YouTube, Spotify and The Hype Machine, so clearly people are catching on anyways. In case you’re not familiar, here’s a quick play-by-play. The Austin seven piece have released two full lengths to date, 2011’s Pillow Talk and 2013’s The Runaround. Their sound is described by most as indie pop, though with so many members and instruments it’s more like a collection of styles and genres incorporated into traditional pop structures. I’d say that folk pop is sort of their base, as most of their songs fall somewhere on the spectrum between The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men, Vance Joy and The Head and the Heart. There’s that acoustic guitar base, the male and female traded off vocals/harmonies, touches of violin, cello and banjo, and choruses that everybody can collectively sing along to. In fact, such actions are strongly encouraged during their live show.

The crowd at Lincoln Hall was more than happy to oblige with the request, leaving the band equally grateful and blown away by the extreme enthusiasm. What else can I say about their set? It was lovely, it was fun, and it was full of should-be hits from across their catalog. The best moments offered up a range of emotions, like when they transitioned from a joyously high energy song that had everyone on stage singing and playing as hard as they could, then followed it up with a stirring ballad that featured only principal members Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins while the rest took a short break. Through it all what shone through most was their passion, both for the material and for their fans. While I can’t quite call myself a fan due to a general ambivalence in regards to their music, at the very least they know how to put on a good show. That’s really all I was hoping for, and am thankful that Wild Child was able to deliver in that aspect.

Buy The Runaround on iTunes

Show Review: Empires + Minor Characters [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 12/27/14]

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is always a dead zone. Very little gets scheduled or happens in the pop culture world during this period unless you’re talking about all the movies the studios release in a last ditch effort to qualify for awards season. The music industry is particularly quiet, with no album releases and no high profile shows. The big holiday bashes are over, and nobody wants to get right back to touring after taking a couple of days off for Christmas and such. Yet in this rather subdued week or so, there’s inevitably a fun little thing or two that pops up on the radar that seems to boast the attitude of, “Why not?” And so it was, on a chilly Saturday night in Chicago that the trio of local bands Wavepool, Minor Characters and Empires gathered together at Lincoln Hall for a show that helped wrap up a successful year for all three acts.


While I didn’t arrive in time for most of Wavepool’s set, I want to give them a quick mention as they were on the bill and deserve a little love and support. They’re a relatively new emo/punk band, but are starting to build a following thanks to some shows around town and a couple of songs released via Bandcamp. The couple of songs I managed to catch upon arriving at Lincoln Hall were quick, hard-hitting and fun. Here’s hoping that bigger and better things are in their future.

Stream and download a pair of songs from Wavepool via Bandcamp


Speaking of bands with a bigger and better future, Minor Characters had a pretty solid 2014 overall. They began it with a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to get their debut LP Voir Dire mastered and released, which was quite successful. While I wasn’t able to review it this year, I’ll say this much: it’s a beautifully composed record that grows on you over time. My only real issue with the album is that it fails to fully capture the excitement and intensity with which the band performs these songs in a live setting. I actually saw Minor Characters back in October when they headlined a show at The Hideout for their album release party, and noticed the difference between the recorded and live versions immediately. Simply put, it feels like their music was composed for the stage, and that is where they excel and seem to be most at home. Perhaps that’s also because they’ve been playing most of these songs for years now, but only recently got around to recording them. Their set at Lincoln Hall on Saturday only furthered that assertion, as just about every song teemed with such forceful power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Their vocal harmonies were top notch too, in particular on a song like “Neighbors,” which elevates things to another level. To me, it also says something about a band if the other members sing along with the lead vocalist whether a microphone is in front of them or not. Just like when a die-hard fan does the same thing in the crowd, it shows that you’re passionate about the material. So yes, Minor Characters put on a great show. It’s just a shame they haven’t really been able to do much in the way of touring this year, so other states and venues might have the chance to see them at their best. Maybe that’ll happen in 2015 if we’re lucky.

Buy Voir Dire on vinyl or on iTunes.


Empires did embark on a national tour in 2014, and that was just one of several things that went right for them this year. They released an album called Orphan to solid critical acclaim. They were on Letterman and played Bonnaroo and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, among other places. Their singles “How Good Does It Feel” and “Please Don’t Tell My Lover” received national and international radio airplay. Those are just some highlights that tell you this is definitely a band that’s on their way up to the big leagues. So when you have a year like Empires did, a hometown show is a perfect way to celebrate those many accomplishments and wrap everything up in a nice little bow. The crowd at Lincoln Hall was primed for their performance, and the band was more than happy to deliver a high energy, catalog spanning set that perfectly showcased their strengths. It really was quite thrilling to watch, and a remarkable improvement on the show of theirs I saw back in the spring. An extensive amount of touring will do that to a band, as all the members learn how to best click with one another in service of a song, plus how to extract the most out of every performance. Empires are now a well oiled machine, and lead vocalist Sean Van Vleet is the wild-haired ringleader at the center of it all. He wasn’t just singing the songs, but throwing them out into the universe with the sort of gusto and celebratory nature often reserved for big name stadium bands. Empires may very well get there some day, and the effortless blend between pop and rock on Orphan is definitely a start in that direction. At various points during their set I recalled bands like The National, The Killers and U2, and not just because certain songs sounded similar. It was there in the style, the energy and even a bit in the vocals too. Throwing it all out there with such wild abandon can become a powerful elixir and really work the crowd into a frenzy. Given that they were playing in front of friends, well-wishers and others right here at home, of course things got a bit rowdy. What impressed me most was how many old songs that Empires included throughout the show, including a couple they hadn’t played in years, and how a majority of fans not only expressed excitement at this prospect, but sang along to every word as well. That’s the sort of devotion this band has sustained for several years now, and at this point it’s thrilling to think about how much farther they can go and how much more they can do once 2015 rolls around.

Buy Orphan from iTunes or on CD/vinyl.

Show Review: TOBACCO + The Stargazer Lilies + Oscillator Bug [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 9/17/14]

There are some things that, no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t un-see. Images are burned into your brain for all of eternity, in many cases haunting you and giving you nightmares. It’s the sort of stuff where you want to look away, but for whatever reason are unable to do so. I had one of these such experiences at Lincoln Hall this past Wednesday night with a triple bill show of Oscillator Bug, The Stargazer Lilies and TOBACCO. Let me tell you the story of how it destroyed me mentally.


Opening the night were Chicago’s own Oscillator Bug, who have been on this tour for a little over a week but are just now getting around to playing a hometown show in celebration of their debut album Bursts of the Million. While they’re technically a quartet when performing live, pretty much all of their fractured songs and compositions are built by frontman Zaid Maxwell, who started the project because he had these sounds and melodies in his head that wouldn’t go away and wouldn’t fit with any other band or project he was working on. The results are something truly unique, though most people describe Oscillator Bug’s sound as synth psych-pop. You’ve got to find some way to sum it up concisely. To my ears though, it’s more like a sonic assault. Songs overflow with more noise than often feels sensible, yet there’s still a clear melody and strong beats propelling everything forward. While there’s a central groove to most of their songs, sound effects and synths buzz around your head at all angles to the point where sometimes it can feel like there’s a little ADHD going on with too much to try and pay attention to. Of course it’s things like that which make the record worth repeat listens, mostly so you can pick up on everything that’s going on. Meanwhile in a live setting the assault extends beyond the mere auditory and into the visual, as lights surround the band on all sides and are consistently changing in time with the music. They’re not tremendously bright though, as ample attention is also given to the projection screen behind them, which shows a variety of psychedelic imagery. The band is a highly functioning machine while performing, and Maxwell plays ringleader throughout. I’d best describe his demeanor on stage as “staccato,” which is really to say he’s moving at a mile a minute, whether that’s in his halting vocal delivery or switching back and forth between a guitars, synths, pedals and other sound manipulators. He’s a one-man wrecking ball, and his three bandmates are right there at the core because there’s so much to do. Overall, Oscillator Bug’s 25 minute set was extremely high energy, fun and just a bit nuts to experience. More than a few people standing near me commented about how impressed they were after the band wrapped up, and in no way do I disagree with that sentiment.

Buy Bursts of the Million from Dymaxion Groove


Things got a little different with The Stargazer Lilies’ performance, but not in a weird or uncomfortable way. It was simply a sonic shift from the technicolor psych of Oscillator Bug into a world shrouded in muted tones and drones. The New York-based trio powered through a 40 minute set that was heavy on ambient and shoegaze melodies. It was glorious and beautiful and loud, which is really just as it should be. One of the main things I came to realize over the course of their set was that they have the word “stargazer” in their name partly because their music intends to be more uplifting than downtrodden (naturally, it’s also a type of flower). You may be inclined to gaze at the ground out of pure genre habit, but pay close enough attention to the way their songs are structured and do what you can to discern some lyrics, and suddenly there’s this positive harmony that shines through the cacophony. That’s a somewhat rare quality for a band like this to have, which is probably why they’ve been steadily on the rise over the course of the last year or so. There are two small areas in which their live show could use some improvement, and those are with the presentation and vocals. I understand that with most ambient drone-style performances the crowd is supposed to let their minds drift and internalize just about everything, but those not fully entranced may find the band’s deep lighting and projected images to be a bit boring. They’re not hyperactive like Oscillator Bug, nor are they danceable and showing crazy videos like TOBACCO (more on that in a minute). Then again, if you’re the filling in that band sandwich, there’s very little you could do that wouldn’t be perceived as boring. Aside from that, Kim Field does great work on the bass, and is equally talented behind the microphone – when you can hear her, of course. Guitars overpower everything in this style of music, but the vocals are there to function as their own gorgeous instrument and if they’re not properly mixed they’ll be completely drowned out. Field’s voice was barely audible during the songs, and the couple of times she attempted to engage in stage banter it was nearly impossible to hear and make out what she was saying. Outside of those couple of things, it was a highly enchanting set.

Buy We Are the Dreamers from Graveface/Bandcamp


The evening’s headliner was TOBACCO, but it might make more sense to call the guy “wacky tobacky” based on how much strange and offbeat humor played into his live set. Thoroughly aware that having a crowd watching a guy behind a table of buttons, knobs and laptops while lights flash can be pretty boring, one of the main elements in TOBACCO’s live show are videos projected on a screen behind him. He started his set by showing a clip of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which included a hilarious story that a guest told about finding his fiancee cheating with his best friend. From there, it was all about the weird, wild, perverse and strange, set to pounding beats and highly manipulated vocals. If you’ve heard of TOBACCO and maybe even heard his music, then that only tells one small part of this guy’s aesthetic. Music videos for songs like “Streaker” and “Super Gum” (both very NSFW) give you a much better idea of the visual and auditory madness that’s rules his set. I mean, that second video features re-edited video from an actual porno from the 80s wherein people have sex with a strange, female version of E.T.! Any newer videos that were shown during the performance, including “Streaker,” may have been shot within the last few years but had just the right tint and grain to make it look like a product of the 70s or 80s to keep with a running aesthetic and motif in the world of TOBACCO. So what you do during the set is watch the (mostly) psychologically damaging videos while dancing your ass off. Part of me wants to detail all of the figurative war crimes that my eyes bore witness to, but it’s probably better if you don’t know, just in case you want to discover and explore this box of horrors yourself. So is the TOBACCO live show worth your while? I’d liken the experience to a car crash – it may look nasty, and there’s certainly the possibility that people were hurt, but through whatever morbid Curiosity you can’t help but want to look. The man reaches into the dark recesses of your human inclination and plays around in the blood and pus. You’ll walk away feeling violated and maybe even a little offended, but some part of you also loved it and craves more. It’s incredible how close our sensations of pain and pleasure are to one another.

Buy Ultima II Massage from the Rad Cult Store

Page 1 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén