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Show Preview: Natalie Prass + Stella Donnelly at Lincoln Hall [9/19]


One of the primary purposes of this site is to expose you to new and rising artists from around the globe, which is why I feel just a little bit terrible for not bringing Stella Donnelly to your attention sooner. Donnelly’s debut EP Thrush Metal was released to critical acclaim in the spring of 2017 and even won the inaugural Levis Music Prize, which is awarded to emerging Australian artists poised for success on an international level. Recent winners have included Alex Lahey, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and Hatchie, all of whom have been featured in some capacity on this site in the past year. But for whatever reason, Donnelly has been a bit of a blind spot here on the site and to a degree in the U.S. Thankfully Secretly Canadian reissued Thrush Metal this past June for American audiences, and she’s now on tour with Natalie Prass that includes a stop at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday, September 19th. More details on that below.

You may be curious as to what Stella Donnelly is all about and why she’s been attracting attention. The short answer is her razor sharp lyrics and ability to craft a memorable hook. Take her EP opener “Mechanical Bull” as an example. From a purely instrumental perspective it’s a gentle, acoustic folk song, but her words tell an entirely different story as she rips into the sexist and overly aggressive guys who have harassed her over the years. “I’ll be your darling, tits, legs, honey, sweet pea,” she says, listing off some of the catcalls men have said to her. “But I’m a fucking arsehole if you ask me,” she immediately cuts back. Even more powerful is the memorable chorus of “I need to be alone / You’ve been at my throat,” where her vocal inflection goes from calm and measured at the start of the song to frustrated and angry by the end. Powerful stuff.

Equally powerful is “Boys Will Be Boys,” which addresses rape culture and how women are often blamed or feel guilty when they are sexually assaulted. “Why was she all alone, wearing her shirt that low? / They said ‘Boys will be boys,’ deaf to the word ‘no’,” Donnelly mourns in the chorus. There’s a personal side to this song as well, as she directly addresses a man responsible for raping one of her friends and vows to “never let you [him] rest.” That line may read like a threat, but the eerily restrained way she sings it, with all the gentleness of an acoustic lullaby, turns it into something truly terrifying.

The remainder of Thrush Metal focuses on the destructive power of toxic relationships, from the spread of negativity and carelessness (“Mean to Me”) to the confusion and stifled growth caused by a lack of communication (“Grey”) to the regret and heartache that results from two strong personalities trying and failing to make things work (“A Poem”). When they’re all put together it might seem sad and depressing on the surface, but the actual listening experience is rich, rewarding, and unforgettable. The dark subject matter is inventively paired with beautiful melodies and addictive hooks that draw you in, make you feel seen, then offer comfort and strength. These songs are worth your time and effort to seek out, and they’re what make Stella Donnelly a force of musical nature worth paying attention to.

So yeah, Donnelly is opening for Natalie Prass at Lincoln Hall, who has her own amazingly great music to play as well. Prass’s 2015 self-titled debut helped establish her as an immensely talented artist with a sound that balanced baroque pop and soul into songs that were as catchy as they were gorgeous. There’s an incredible sweetness and optimism that seeps through her voice as buoyant melodies swell up around it, even as she tackles tough topics about heartbreak and misunderstandings in relationships. Her new record The Future and the Past shifts things in a bit of a different direction, paring back some of the strings from her debut and focusing instead on funky grooves provided by the bass guitar and synth. You can dance to more of these songs, but they’re also a bit darker in their overall subject matter.

In some ways the record is a response to the Trump administration, though it’s more about the issues than the President himself. For example, “Sisters” is all about gender solidarity in the face of a wage gap, bad relationships, and generally being regarded by society as “less than” men. “Ain’t Nobody” goes to bat for reproductive rights, while “Ship Goes Down” addresses the shock of watching your country head down an unexpected and negative path. But there’s some fun stuff on the record too, like the super catchy love song “Short Court Style” and the hopeful “we’re in this together” vibes of “Hot for the Mountain”. Overall it’s been heartening to watch Prass grow as an artist and songwriter, and I can’t recommend her records enough. Wednesday night at Lincoln Hall promises to be something special, so come on out Chicago!

Natalie Prass / Stella Donnelly
Buy Tickets
Wednesday, September 19th
8PM / $15 (advance), $17 (doors) / 18+

Show Preview: Amen Dunes at Lincoln Hall [8/21]


What’s most fascinating to me about Damon McMahon’s work as Amen Dunes is how it’s evolved over time. His 2009 record DIA provided an introduction to the project that was a little similar to Bon Iver’s origin story in that he recorded the songs on his own while locked away in a cabin. But the music of Amen Dunes was much more obtuse and experimental in comparison to Bon Iver’s, with a psychedelic and occasionally aggressive edge that pushed it into the territory of bands like Spacemen 3, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Velvet Underground. A couple of years later, he’d pull together an actual band to help fill out and sharpen his sound while further evoking classic influences.

Each new Amen Dunes release has also gotten bigger and more accessible than the one before, and with the expanding palette has come contributions from members of Iceage, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to help add new wrinkles while also cutting into the beating heart of the intimate and familiar. Even the simplest of melodies somehow manage to come across as a dynamic undertaking, and that sense of large-scale drama is at least partly owed to McMahon’s dynamic voice, which stretches and contracts according to the needs of the track. It’s the biggest reason why 2014’s Love was such a critical darling, and plays an essential role in helping to make Freedom one of this year’s best records. His voice is clearer than ever on the new record, and feels oddly familiar yet entirely unique, like a combination of Kurt Vile, Adam Granduciel (The War on Drugs), Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, J Spaceman, and Mick Jagger. You can’t always understand every single word he’s singing, but somehow it all makes sense, particularly in an emotional context.

Part of what makes any Amen Dunes record a compelling listening experience is that every song feels like a self-contained journey in service of a larger whole. You can drop in just about anywhere and find fulfillment, despite a minimal number of hooks or an overarching theme. Freedom does this best by crafting a seductive atmosphere of songs that shimmer like sunlight catching a piece of tin foil. The songs are slightly hazy, remarkably smooth, and politely insistent. You can dance to some of them, though they mainly hang out in a sort of mid-tempo range that at the very least leave your toe tapping. There are stories in these songs, packed with minor details to make them feel lived-in and real, but simultaneously withholding enough other bits of information to prevent it from coming across as too autobiographical. These things may have happened to somebody, just likely not McMahon himself. Many of the themes, including grief and family, stem from the struggle and emotional wreckage that resulted from his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis a couple years ago. Instead of wallowing in sadness however, the record is more propelled by the emotional tension and relief that can be wrung from the instrumentals rather than the words themselves.

Seeing as how we’ve reached a point where Amen Dunes has never sounded better or more confident, now feels like the perfect time to see these songs performed in a live setting. It just so happens that McMahon and his band will be playing a show at Lincoln Hall next Tuesday, August 21st. It will mark his first time in Chicago since Freedom was released back in March, and promises to be a special night. Tickets are still available, so check out the details and come on out for what promises to be a great night of music!

Amen Dunes / Okay Kaya
Buy Tickets
Tuesday, August 21st
8PM / $15 (advance) / 18+

Lollapalooza 2018: 20 Artists to See


So you’ve decided to attend Lollapalooza 2018. Congratulations! You have made a smart investment in your musical future. At four days and 170+ artists however, there’s a whole lot to digest. You can’t see and do everything no matter how hard you try, so choices need to be made. Some choices are easier than others, but if you’re looking for a bit of guidance, allow me to play Pied Piper and point you in the direction of some bands and artists to see over the course of the weekend. Part of the goal here is to point out some lesser known or up-and-coming artists you might not be familiar with yet, but who are worth the effort to try and see (even if they perform early in the day). There are a few veterans sprinkled in for good measure as well, but no headliners because you can presumably figure those out on your own. Five recommendations per day with minimal time conflicts between them, so if you hustle around Grant Park here are 20 performances that will turn your festival experience from good to great. Join me after the jump and we’ll get started!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Sunday Preview


Ah Sunday. If you’ve been attending the Pitchfork Music Festival for two days already, chances are your body will be beaten and tired. Drag yourself out of bed, pour some caffeine down your throat, and gear up for one last day of amazing music. Much like Friday, Sunday is packed with local Chicago performers who are both legends and up-and-comers. It promises to be a great day, and if you’re not sure about who you should be seeing, well, that’s kind of the purpose of this preview guide. So follow me past the jump and we’ll get right into it, yeah?

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here for the Saturday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back for coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Saturday Preview


Back in February, a new program based in the EU called Keychange, which is focused on helping women transform the music industry, announced that they had partnered with 45 different music festivals from around the globe in a pledge to help create fully gender balanced lineups by 2020. Considering how lopsided the current festival landscape is, with major festival lineups like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza averaging somewhere around 20% female, committing to a 50/50 split will certainly take some work. Unfortunately most large festivals haven’t joined Keychange’s pledge, so the numbers will likely remain skewed for the foreseeable future. The folks behind the Pitchfork Music Festival also didn’t agree to have a gender balanced lineup by 2020. Instead, they’ve done it by 2018. Pitchfork is only one of two festivals (the other is Panorama) to do it this year, and while there’s been very little attention given to this fact, it’s absolutely worth noting and celebrating. Will they choose to continue booking lineups this way in the future? I guess we’ll find out in 2019 and beyond. For now though, it’s heartening to know that Pitchfork is taking the lead in helping to create a more progressive and hospitable festival experience for persons of all genders and types. There’s a whole lot of talented women and men set to perform at Pitchfork on Saturday, and if you’re interested in learning more about them and who you should make an effort to see, read on below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back tomorrow for the Sunday preview guide, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Friday Preview


One of the best things about Friday at Pitchfork Music Festival every year is how relaxed the overall vibe is compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s less a product of the artists on the lineup and more the result of lower attendance (because many people are working), later arrivals (some show up after work), and people wanting to conserve their energy for the days ahead. You spend the day getting your bearings, learning where everything is located, and trying not to over-extend yourself. Yet it’s still a blast and the lineup is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. This year one of the biggest features of Pitchfork Fest is just how LOCAL it is. Yes, it’s very local every year, but that’s mostly reflected in the vendors and fun side attractions rather than the music itself. There are always a handful of Chicago artists and bands on the lineup, which has been nice but felt more like an afterthought than an actual intention. With 13 Chicago acts (out of 42 total) on the 2018 lineup, that’s no longer the case. Not only that, but the artists that were booked are all highly respected and critically acclaimed. If this is something Pitchfork hopes to continue in the future I worry they may run out of good choices, even though the local music scene is pretty massive. But we’ll take what we can get, and this year promises to be one of the best yet. There are five Chicago artists performing on Friday, including two bands that kick off the festival proper. Learn a bit more about all of them, and check out my personal picks for who to see hour-by-hour below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of all the Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back later this week for the Saturday and Sunday preview guides, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Show Preview: Alex Cameron at Lincoln Hall [3/7]


To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Alex Cameron. The Australian musician is a bit of an oddball, but he’s so carefully skating the line between sincerity and parody (or truth and fiction) that it’s difficult to get an accurate beat on who he is or what he’s trying to accomplish with his music. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you – that sort of vague template he’s presented over two full length records is dynamic and entertaining.

Alex Cameron’s debut album Jumping the Shark, for example, introduced him as a sort of worn-down sleazeball drunk. It’s a role he played into for live performances as well, applying makeup and fake wrinkles on his face to look older and creepier. Not entirely sure why anyone would voluntarily step into such a lecherous persona, but he managed to make it work by fully committing to the role and crafting smart yet gritty synth-pop songs to go along with it.

For a follow-up, 2017’s Forced Witness pivoted into a style and sound that might best be described as acerbic sheen. The songs sound much cleaner in execution, and he’s gotten rid of the wrinkles, yet the lyrics remain dark and disturbing. Each song paints a portrait of a deeply ugly, chest-thumping man’s man, as well as the sort of guys that might ascribe to a similar mentality. You probably know the type, straight from the coked-up, Wolf of Wall Street and American Psycho universes.

The characters in Cameron’s songs may be total assholes devoid of respect for women, but what makes them so compelling and the reason we listen to them ramble about perverse and disgusting things is that each one reveals deeper layers of insecurity and monstrosity. Underneath the surface of braggadocio are scared boys leaning into their worst impulses mostly because they don’t really ever face any consequences for their twisted actions.

When you combine those themes with slick, ’80s-style cheese pop (the kind that frequently includes jazzy saxophone solos), the whole exercise becomes astounding in its audacity. It’s impressive how many ludicrous things Cameron manages to get away with, all while somehow pulling memorable hook after memorable hook into the fray. Listening to it on record is one unique experience, but watching him sing these songs on stage is a whole other one. So if you’re up for catching a performance that’s weird, wild, and entirely unpredictable, don’t miss Cameron when he drops by Lincoln Hall on Wednesday, March 7th. The fantastic Molly Burch is opening the show too, so that’s an added bonus!

Alex Cameron / Molly Burch / Holiday Sidewinder
Buy Tickets
Wednesday, March 7th
8PM / $15 (advance) / 18+

Lollapalooza 2017: Preview Guide


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

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

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Preview


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

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

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

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Saturday Preview


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

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

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

Read More

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Preview

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

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

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

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Tuned In: Jena Friedman

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pre-order Offers on Bandcamp

Stay Young

Offers

Sisters

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitski – Your Best American Girl

Fear of Men – Trauma

Weaves – Tick

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

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