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Show Review: Washed Out + HAERTS [Metro; Chicago; 9/13/13]

There was a chill in the air all throughout Chicago this past Friday night. It was odd only because not a day or two earlier, temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 90s. You could say that fall showed up from out of nowhere. Or maybe it had something to do with the “eerie” Friday the 13th, where bad things happen because of a random day on a calendar. But if you’re looking for a more honest, completely non-scientific explanation for the seasonably cool weather, it’s because Washed Out (aka Ernest Greene) came to town. Greene was one of the original artists to get wrapped up in the “chillwave” genre descriptor when it first came to prominence around 2008. Chillwave grooves might be quite lovely overall, but they project a rather frigid demeanor as well. You’re invited to sit back and relax, but don’t get too comfortable. The chillwave tag might be all but dead these days, and Washed Out may have transitioned to greener pastures via the latest album Paracosm, but that doesn’t mean the city of Chicago has to accept it. We are the Windy City after all, and just like our weather our opinions about things can change dramatically thanks to even the slightest passing breeze. For the sold out crowd at Metro on Friday however, the physical and mental temperature rose big time thanks to cerebral but immensely fun sets from two bands that ignited a dance party of sweaty bodies.

Starting the night off right was New York band HAERTS. They’ve spent the last few months gathering more and more attention for their singles “Wings” and “All the Days,” both of which are bouncy and dynamic pieces of synth pop. You could call them part of a trend in 2013, boasting a similar sound and style to that of Chvrches, another band poised to hit it big despite not having an album out yet. At least Chvrches have got an EP right now. HAERTS are readying their debut EP, titled Hemiplegia, which has been in the works for awhile but will finally be out on September 24th. This tour with Washed Out provides a nice preview of what to expect from this young band in the immediate future. The good news is that the outlook continues to appear bright, and the new songs tend to be as strong as the pair we’ve already been exposed to. They played all four tracks from their EP, including the aforementioned singles, then dove into material that will presumably be on their full length, which is still tentatively due later this year. This is material they’ve been performing and essentially sitting on for at least a year now, if producer Jean Philip Grobler (aka St. Lucia) is telling the truth. One of the best and catchiest of the new tunes is “Heart,” and you can watch the band perform a live rendition of that as part of a recent Yours Truly session. Outside of all that, I’m not sure about the titles of anything else they performed, except to say that there was another fun one and also a slow ballad. On stage, HAERTS sound good and look good too, but those two elements alone don’t win you awards for being a great live band. Their faithful renditions of their recorded output left little room for sonic detours, and the overall stoicism stripped back any genuine emotional impact the songs might otherwise have had. In other words, they might do even better than they currently are if they adopted a looser and more playful attitude on stage. Maybe that’s a quality you attain with time. For now though, HAERTS packed a lot of punch into their opening set, and the crowd got a little bit into it. Hopefully the next time they come through town it will be on a headlining tour in support of their record, and they’ll be better than ever.

The first thing that amused me about Washed Out’s set happened before any notes were even played. It was that the entire stage was decorated in flowers and vines and even patches of fake grass, all in service of fulfilling Ernest Greene’s grand, nature-laden vision. After an album and an EP of intimate but emotionally cold music, the new Washed Out record Paracosm seeks to change things by adding warmth and more organic elements overall. It very much sounds like a summer album to help connect you with the world around you, and all the album art and music videos push this theme even further with flowers, plants and jungle animals. That’s why the look of the Metro stage was so appropriate and equally fascinating. But as far as organic elements go, the biggest positive the new record has to offer is a lot of live instrumentation. In the past, Greene has used samples played off a laptop both in recorded versions of songs as well as in concert. When I last saw the band in fall of 2012, there were more people playing live instruments than I expected, but a laptop was still used from time to time. Now in fall of 2013, all of that computer technology has been eliminated. A handful of people joined Greene on stage to help bring everything to life, and the results were positively lovely.

Starting with Paracosm‘s opening track(s) “Entrance/It All Feels Right,” the crowd got into it right away and bounced along with its upbeat rhythm. Greene strummed an acoustic guitar and sang in tandem with one of his bandmates to create a dual, echo-laden vocal. That vocal style would be adopted for much of the set, and it begs the question of whether or not this choice had anything to do with a lack of confidence/vocal weakness or is intended to be an aesthetic that’s there solely to provoke certain vibes. Whatever’s behind it, everything sounded (and felt) right/well constructed. There was a surprise early on in the set when the band played “Belong,” off the 2009 High Times EP which is the first and probably least recognized Washed Out recording. The live version on Friday night was a bit different from the studio version, which is understandable given how much the show and on stage personnel has evolved since then. The same went for “New Theory” and “Get Up” from the Life of Leisure EP, though there was a certain faithfulness to the recorded original, just recreated by people instead of a computer. Overall the dozen songs performed were pretty evenly split between the varying Washed Out albums and EPs, and actually it could be said the new album was slightly underrepresented by only squeezing three (technically four if you count the 90 second instrumental “Entrance”) of its songs in. Of course they were the poppiest and most enjoyable tracks on the record, and that was perhaps the underlying strategy when performing live – to never let the energy drop. The crowd was dancing and having a great time, so why slide one of the slower and less engaging cuts into the set? The second half in particular was heavy on the hits, with new single “Don’t Give Up” leading into “Feel It All Around” (aka the Portlandia theme song), and “Amor Fati” to close things out in a fun way.

Greene wasn’t a man of many words during the Washed Out set at Metro, but he did introduce the first song of the encore as “one for the old school Washed Out fans in the house.” The band then launched into “Despicable Dogs,” which is actually a cover/remix of a Small Black song that was put together for a split EP back in 2009. Of all the unexpected surprises during the set, that one probably qualified as the biggest. Technically speaking, the band took that song and made it their own, but it wasn’t that far removed from the chillwave original anyways. The novelty was the main selling point. Reflecting on the show afterwards, there were a lot of those unique touches that popped up throughout the 65 minute set, all the way down to the decor. Chillwave may be a subgenre of music on its last legs, but not only did Greene prove himself to be at the top of that pile, he managed to prove there’s still plenty of life left in that particular sound. His continued evolution remains our gain.

Washed Out – Amor Fati

Paracosm full album stream:

Buy Paracosm from Sub Pop

Set List
Entrance/It All Feels Right
New Theory
Get Up
You and I
All I Know
Don’t Give Up
Feel It All Around
Amor Fati
Despicable Dogs
Eyes Be Closed

Lollapalooza 2013: Sunday Recap

At some point, not in this post, I’m going to complain about how worn out and tired I was heading into Sunday at Lollapalooza. Again, I want to emphasize that now is neither the time nor place to comment on such things, because the main focus is on a summary of the things I saw on the final day of the three day festival. I prefer to use the term “lazy Sunday” to describe how I approached things, though the amount of walking and standing I did probably qualifies as the opposite of that. But compared to previous days, my main goal was to finish out the weekend in a very relaxed atmosphere without pushing myself too hard. For the most part you could call that mission a success. Here’s a Sunday recap for you:

Since Angel Haze is a member of my Class of 2013, I really, really wanted to see her perform at Lolla. Unfortunately, I made one fatal mistake: I chose to take a 15-minute cat nap before heading out the door. That 15 minutes turns into 30, and suddenly you find yourself racing to Grant Park in the hopes of catching the last few songs of a set, only to hit some heavy traffic on Lake Shore Drive. So ultimately, no Angel Haze was in my future and I arrived at the exact time her set was ending. My other realistic choices were to see the second half of sets from Alex Clare or Lianne La Havas, neither of which sounded attractive to me. So I wandered the grounds instead, taking in some of the “sights” and grabbing a pizza along with a t-shirt before dropping by the Petrillo stage for some Baroness. That was the official start to my musical day, and they were a great kick in the teeth for those of us that needed it. They had the energy of a great metal band, complete with plenty of guitar posturing and long-haired head banging. Part of what makes Baroness such a strong live band though isn’t their energy, but the music itself, which strives to transcend easily definable genres. It leads to some cool psychedelic and punk rock ethos that blend perfectly with the much heavier guitar work. They may have lost a couple members following their tragic bus crash last fall, but they’ve fully recovered and are as impressive as ever.

Have you ever seen Tegan and Sara perform live before? It’s been about seven or so years since I last caught their live show. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with it that forced me to stay away, but I saw them play a couple of small club dates back in the So Jealous era and then follow those up with a Lollapalooza set in which Sara wound up with heat stroke which caused them to abort after the first 30 minutes. Personally I think their sharp uptick in popularity combined with performing at increasingly larger venues turned me off a bit, as did their 2009 album Sainthood. But I also think that Tegan and Sara have been avoiding Lollapalooza since 2005, and I was eager to see what would happen when they returned to the festival for the first time in eight years. I also wonder how many people in the crowd saw that 2005 shortened set. Given the demographics of the festival these days, I’m betting very few people besides myself and Tegan and Sara were there. Still, in true sisterly fashion, Tegan couldn’t help bring that incident up multiple times during their set, checking in on Sara to see how she was surviving the balmy 78 degree weather. Last time the heat index was 100+ degrees. Both of them did just fine, and they triumphed with a full set that was 50% devoted to cuts from their new album Heartthrob. It all sounded rather great, and that’s sort of been the Tegan and Sara modus operandi for over a decade now. They have a lot of fun on stage, trade off witty banter and goofy insults at one another, and hit all their notes right on target. Not much more you could ask for, and why would you want to?

The appeal of alt-J is something I’ve not fully grasped yet. Their debut album An Awesome Wave is a pretty strong cocktail of the many different popular styles of indie rock from recent years, and while there are plenty of highlights (“Breezeblocks,” “Fitzpleasure,” “Something Good”), beyond those carefully spaced hits are sonically interesting but largely quiet moments. Therefore if you think that’s going to translate well to a festival stage, you’re sorely mistaken. The massive sized crowd was moderately well-behaved for much of the set, waiting patiently for the hits they recognized, then promptly singing and/or dancing along with them before another lull arrived. While I didn’t hear anyone expressing outright disappointment with the band’s performance, the turnover was high, with a mini exodus happening each time the band finished one of their hits. So what was alt-J’s biggest failure, their relative inexperience with trying to engage a festival crowd, or the mere fact that their material doesn’t lend itself to that type of situation? I’d argue a little from column A and a little from column B. As time and new material emerge, I feel like things will get better. From what I saw at Lollapalooza though, they’re a band in the spotlight who aren’t quite ready for it just yet.

While I wasn’t able to catch all of their set, part of me felt inclined to watch at least a little bit of Grizzly Bear. I haven’t seen them perform live since their latest album Shields came out last year, and the thought was it’d be nice to hear a couple songs from that album to see how well they translate on stage. In short, like pretty much everything else from the band’s catalogue, it sounds pretty great. Of course Grizzly Bear aren’t the most lively bunch when performing, and on an early Sunday evening with the sun beginning to set, their golden melodies felt almost just right even as it could well have lulled the crowd to sleep. I was invested enough after a handful of songs to want to stick around for more, but another band was calling my name on the other side of the park.

If you read my review of Vampire Weekend‘s new album Modern Vampires of the City, then you know it’s one of if not THE finest albums of 2013 so far. It was on that reasoning I felt the need to make sure I was there for at least a majority of the band’s Lollapalooza set. The crowd was one of the biggest all weekend, and for good reason given their consistent increase in popularity over the last few years. As one might expect, there was quite a bit of material crammed into the 1 hour and 15 minutes they were allotted, though the slight surprise was how evenly distributed things were across the band’s three albums. Of the 18 songs played, the band did six from each record, except for Contra which only got five. The extra outlier was the b-side “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)”, which has been around since before VW’s debut album when they sent out a CD-R to a bunch of music writers in the hopes of earning some attention. Overall the set was a whole lot of fun, and the crowd really liked it too. I’m just glad I got to hear “Hannah Hunt” performed live as I began to venture back to the other side of Grant Park in search of the perfect way to end my weekend.

As I wandered over to find a decent viewing spot for The Cure‘s festival-closing set, I overheard Beach House beaming out a perfect rendition of their song “Myth” to end their set. When I saw the band perform at a different festival last year, they almost put me to sleep, and I anticipate something similar would have happened had a stuck around for their full set. Beach House is a great band, but the best way to experience their live show is in a seated theater, not outside at a music festival. Which does bring me to The Cure, and how they practically excel in a setting such as this. Lollapalooza is their only show in the continental U.S. this year, as part of their “Great Circle” world tour, and naturally they aimed to please. All of their essential hits were played, from “Love Song” to “Friday I’m in Love” and “Pictures of You,” plus a handful of deep cuts to satisfy their more intense fans. Of course most were there to hear their biggest songs, which is why the crowd went nuts for anything easily recognizable but largely stopped paying close attention when “Trust” and “Want” and “The Hungry Ghost” showed up. You could claim Disintegration dominated because six out of the total 26 songs were from that record, but Wish got quite a bit of love too while the rest of the set was scattered across the band’s vast catalogue of time and space. I realized while watching their set that it’s been nearly 10 years since I last saw The Cure perform, and don’t really remember much about the last time except that I was a little disappointed Robert Smith was still doing the bird’s nest hair and white makeup style two decades later. These days I’m older, wiser and presumably more accepting of such eccentricities. But getting back to the Lollapalooza performance, I walked away quite satisfied, but felt like the pacing was off by just a litte bit. There were some big hits in the first 45 minutes of the set, but those second 45 minutes were thorny and somewhat difficult to enjoy. The 30 or so minutes of encore time was just one big hit after another, and I think if all those songs were spread out a bit more it would have kept not only myself, but the overall crowd more interested too. A small part of me was also hoping to hear a new song or two, as it’s been five years since the band’s last album of original material. Alas, it was not to be, though maybe that was for the better considering their track record the last 12-13 years. The Cure touring around just playing crowd favorites seems like the smartest move they could make, so long as there’s still a demand for it. If the crowd at Lollapalooza was any indication, that demand won’t be waning any time soon.

Lollapalooza 2013: Saturday Recap

After what was a pleasant and somewhat inspiring first day of Lollapalooza, Saturday was supposed to be the “big one.” When single day tickets went on sale a few months ago, Saturday was the first to sell out, and almost immediately. What was its biggest selling point? Mumford & Sons, probably. And maybe a little help from The Lumineers. I had a feeling the crowds were going to be huge for both bands, and I only moderately like them, so naturally I avoided going anywhere near that stage. I felt almost rewarded as a result. Of course the entire day was rewarding, even though I got a later start than I was hoping for or anticipated. The extra time I took to sleep in really helped me make it through the day, I think. As a reminder, though service is all but nonexistent in Grant Park this weekend, I am doing my best to live tweet about every act that I see. If I don’t do it during the day, I catch up at the end of the night. Just so you know for reference purposes. Anyways, here’s a short bit about the things I saw on Saturday.

My day started with Charles Bradley. He’s widely regarded as a soul legend, and his set showed that in spades. I could hear the horns blaring and his powerful wail well outside the walls of Grant Park, and for a minute I thought I’d accidentally stumbled into Chicago’s world famous Blues Fest instead. Even though he’s getting up there in age, Bradley commanded the crowd with his strong presence and even broke out a dance move or two. It may be a long way from his early days as a James Brown impersonator, but at some point in time there will hopefully be a Charles Bradley impersonator just making his way up the ladder to legendary status as well.

As I started to walk across the field to the stage just behind me for Matt & Kim, I ran into problems. Specifically, I hit a wall of people. The crowd stretched back extremely far at the Petrillo stage, so far that I couldn’t see the stage from my vantage point and couldn’t hear the band too well either. Whenever I run into that situation, as I did with Imagine Dragons on Friday, I figure there’s no point in watching or listening if I can’t watch and can barely listen. So I wandered over to Ellie Goulding’s stage about 30 minutes before her set was scheduled to start. I could kind of hear Matt & Kim from there, and enjoyed renditions of “Cameras” and “Let’s Go”, mixed with bits and pieces of some interesting and odd covers.

I think Ellie Goulding is one of the most talented mainstream pop acts today, and her energetic set had the huge crowd going totally nuts. I was packed in tighter than any other spot I’ve been in all weekend, and everyone around me was jumping up and down, singing along, clapping, and other things you do at an overly enthusiastic pop show. For her part, Goulding kept the mood light and upbeat, and she certainly sounded great. She covered Elton John’s “Your Song” at one point, and it actually felt both earnest and earned.

I’ve seen Unknown Mortal Orchestra one time before, and it was an okay set. At a certain point last time I thought it started to wear thin and get a little boring, so my expectations were lower when venturing in for a second round. The crowd turned out to be one of the lighter ones of the day, primarily because there was a lot going on at all the other stages. But the band made the most of their time and actually impressed me with a bouncy, pleasant and rather psychedelic set that was really strong on technical chops. Maybe it’s the fact that they released their second album and the new songs are working better for me, or playing a lot more live shows has made them a much stronger band overall, but whatever it is it’s working. The extended outro to “Ffunny Ffrends” featured a rather great guitar solo from frontman Ruban Nielson, and left the crowd in a great mood.

A few records and a few hundred live performances under their belts, Foals know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve results with a crowd. Their set builds slowly and steadily, an energetic instrumental one minute, a ballad with a soaring chorus the next, and a heavy rock cut after that. They covered all their bases, and though they dispatched one of their best songs “My Number” early on in their set (which drew a great dance party in the crowd), it was “Inhaler” that finally was the knockout punch. It was the perfect introduction to Foals if you’re not very familiar with their music, or had never seen them live before. The list of new converts at that show has to be pretty huge.

This was the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen The National perform live, and with each new experience I’m treated to what feels like an improved version of the band I saw the previous time. At this point I think they’ve been around long enough and know each other well enough to truly click on stage, even in a festival setting that doesn’t work as well with their particular brand of nuance. Frontman Matt Berninger is certainly working the stage a lot more, breaking away from his perpetual stance behind a mic stand to hang out on the sides for a few minutes. Some tricks, like Berninger running into the crowd during “Mr. November,” are long-time band staples, but they’re highlights that continue to thrill, so why stop? The new material sounds great, and the crowd was very receptive through it all. Certainly one of the day’s highlights.

After all the turmoil that hit the scheduling at The Grove stage on Saturday, what with Azealia Banks being forced to cancel due to vocal chord problems and Death Grips refusing to show up for whatever reason, the band Haim got either a really good or a really bad deal depending on how you look at it. The printed version of the schedule has them going on stage around 3:30 up against Matt & Kim, Court Yard Hounds and Local Natives. Not exactly bad bands to be up against. Their actual set time wound up being at 7:15, which was more prime time, but up against Kendrick Lamar and The Lumineers. So it wasn’t too surprising that the crowd for Haim wasn’t massive, though it was pretty decent sized overall. The three sisters played material off their EP and some new songs from their forthcoming debut album. Overall their set was a whole lot of fun, that includes the highly amusing sisterly stage banter. All of them also proved to be incredibly talented musicians, and a couple of small jam sessions they had included some face-melting guitar solos and wild bass work. I saw the band perform again at an aftershow a few hours later, and they were even better. I’ll have a report on that later. Be on the lookout, Haim is going to be huge.

With the sea of people over at Mumford & Sons, it was nice to simply stroll up to a close spot for The Postal Service. As Ben Gibbard had said in a tweet earlier in the day, their Lollapalooza set and their subsequent Sunday night aftershow would be their final two shows ever, so in my logic, why would you miss that. It helps I love their one record Give Up to the point where I’ve got every lyric memorized. A lot of people do, apparently, because the entire set was like one massive sing-along. The only time the crowd stopped singing was when they played some of the b-sides and previously unreleased material that appeared on the deluxe 10th anniversary reissue of the album. Overall the arrangements were very similar to what they sounded like on record, though they were made a little more buoyant and full at times which was nice. There were extended versions of some hits, particularly “Such Great Heights” and the closer “Brand New Colony.” A cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret” was a nice additional treat. Jenny Lewis was in many ways a jack of all trades during the show, playing a number of different instruments in addition to her supporting vocals role. Gibbard was his typical self, upbeat and honest, and he seemed to really appreciate how much this band and their one record means to so many people. This might be the official end to The Postal Service, but I can’t express how happy it made me to finally see it performed live. I’ll take them over Mumford & Sons any day of the week.

Lollapalooza 2013: Friday Recap

With Lollapalooza kicking off on Friday, my goal is to bring you the best possible coverage of the festival to help you get an impression of what it’s like to be there, and comment on some of the amazing slash not so amazing things I see. Traditionally in the past that means writing somewhat lengthy recaps of each day to describe all the action. Well, this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. I’m keeping the daily summaries very short, and will expand upon them at the end of the weekend with a lengthy final writeup. Basically, I’m taking my Twitter impressions and giving you a little bit (but not much) more. That said, here’s the bands I saw on Day 1, and my lightning quick thoughts on all of their sets.

San Cisco are a band with plenty of mediocre indie pop songs, but it’s sunny out & they’re fun, so who cares? A great way to start the festival (to a degree), and if everyone’s enjoying themselves, far be it from em to call this bad.

After a somewhat slow start to their set, Deap Vally really stepped it up and brought some great rock ‘n roll to their Lolla. Nice work, ladies. The duo crafts what basically amount to party and heavy drinking songs under the guise of a Black Keys/White Stripes garage rock/blues combo, and while early afternoon on a Friday isn’t exactly the best time for such debauchery, the crowd still seemed receptive to their charms.

Almost as if by prophecy, rain clouds rolled in and it began to drizzle in time for the start of Ghost B.C.‘s set. Thankfully for everyone in the crowd, it was only a brief, five minute light rain and the only precipitation that would hit Grant Park on Friday. In terms of the band though, they came out in their traditional black hooded robes and skeleton cardinal outfits and did some spectacular work moving beyond the mere theatrics of their performance and turning in a precise, enjoyable set of Swedish metal.

Jessie Ware‘s set was a fair amount of fun. Though her songs aren’t always the most energetic, her enthusiasm gave them a much needed boost. She was super friendly with the crowd, and in turn the crowd was super friendly to her. Smiles and light dancing abound, Ware charged through her debut album and certainly helped me to see it in a new light.

For the first time ever, I watched a full Crystal Castles set. Generally speaking, I had a blast. Alice Glass is hardcore. She came out on stage drinking straight from a bottle of Jameson and smoking a cigarette, then proceeded to crawl to the microphone like she could barely make it there. But she as usual, she wound up the focal point of the set, dancing and tossing a microphone stand around. Twice she attempted to crowd surf. The first time her microphone got detached and she has to abort the song and get back to the stage, but the second time she almost literally walked on top of people and kept singing at the same time. There was a big crowd and they loved every second of it. Even the cuts from their relatively weak third album sounded pretty good live.

Attempted to watch some of Imagine Dragons‘ set, but the crowd was so huge I could barely hear and certainly couldn’t see the band. So I left. I had a similar experience during M83 on the same stage at Lolla last year, but this time was even worse. Apparently the stage lost power after two songs and it took 10 minutes to restart it, but I was long gone by that time. It may as well have lost power from the very start, since I was so crushed into a spot so far away it was near impossible to hear anyways.

The Disclosure dance party at Lolla was absolutely one of the day’s highlights. Jessie Ware had to prep for her aftershow later that evening so couldn’t be there to do her vocals live for her guest track, but the duo just played back the recorded vocals from the record, along with those of AlunaGeorge and a host of other guests on their debut album. Though they were triggering those samples and some beats via laptop, they also tried their best to “perform” via some additional live drums and bass. It all worked pretty well, but I think nobody in the crowd really cared. All they wanted to do was dance.

New Order‘s Lolla set was almost exactly the same as the one I saw them do in Chicago a few months ago. Same backing videos, nearly the same stage banter, and the arrangements of their greatest hits hasn’t really changed either. As such, to me it was like watching a rerun of a TV show I love. It doesn’t take away from your love, you just know what’s coming and are probably only watching because there’s nothing better on. But for those that hadn’t seen New Order in awhile (or ever), this was a treat, and another dance party.

They should’ve put Chance the Rapper on a bigger stage at Lolla. The BMI stage was packed beyond packed for his set, and the crowd went so far back they spilled into some of the main walkways of Grant Park. Because the BMI stage is the smallest stage, you couldn’t see much unless you were really close. But the audio was crisp all the way back, and you could tell it was a strong performance simply by listening. Chance seemed overwhelmed by the crowd, and also equally appreciative. At the end of his set he tried to crowd surf to the back of the massive crowd while riding inside of an inflatable kiddie pool. He didn’t make it very far. Oh well.

Finally, it was a treat to see Nine Inch Nails again. Trent Reznor knows how to put on a live show better than anyone I can think of, and NIN’s headlining set was a feast for both the eyes and the ears. The interplay of shadows, the blinding columns of light, the fierce, attack dog way he tears apart every one of his songs with his band is nothing short of mindblowing. There were 3 songs off the band’s forthcoming record that were performed last night, and all sounded great. I was hoping for some off-kilter, reworked renditions of some popular NIN classics, but unfortunately only “Sanctified” got that treatment and nothing else. Still, “Closer,” “Head Like A Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” and all the others retain their power. It doesn’t feel like the band has been gone at all, though this was their first North American show in four years. Welcome back, Trent.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Final Thoughts

I’m pleased to be wrapping up this week-long adventure into coverage of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival with a quick look back at the weekend that was. Having attended the festival for the last few years, you really get used to how things are run and where you need to go for everything from water to food to restrooms. So as you return in a sense it’s like coming home, and that’s comforting. I never once felt out of my element or like I had no idea what I was doing over the three days. Of course I didn’t quite see everything I wanted to see and hear everything I wanted to hear thanks to traffic delays and one too many hits of the snooze button, but what I missed was miniscule compared to what I saw. Hopefully you’ve read all about those adventures in my daily recaps (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). That should give you a pretty good idea of the best and worst of the music side of things this year. But just for fun, I put together a little list of superlatives, helping to highlight some of my favorite and least favorite musical treats from the weekend. Check that out:

Most surprising set: Killer Mike
Most disappointing set: Yo La Tengo
Set that best lived Up to the hype: Savages
Band that sounded better live than on record: Parquet Courts
Most openly fun set: Solange
Most likely controlled the weather during their set: Bjork
Set that proved punk rock is alive and well: Metz
Veteran act that still has “it”: Wire
Veteran act that has lost “it”: The Breeders
Band whose set would have been far more popular in a different decade: Chairlift
Band that felt so right in the middle of a sunny afternoon: Phosphorescent
Quietest set (artist + crowd): Joanna Newsom
Funniest set: Mac DeMarco
Most gratuitous use of the word “SWAG”: Lil B
Flashiest performance with the least amount of genuine substance: M.I.A.
Most pathetic attempt to attract attention: Foxygen

Outside of those superlatives, I want to talk for a brief minute about how things went overall. Since we’re on the topic of music, let me say a few words about this year’s lineup. To me, it felt just a little bit weaker than in the last few years, though all of the headliners were certainly nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps that’s where most of the budget went this year. I suspect it was telling that unlike the last couple years, the festival wasn’t a total sell out this year. Sunday was sold out, most likely due to obsessive R. Kelly fans who camped out at the Green stage for much of the day just waiting for him. But Friday and Saturday didn’t sell out, as far as I’m aware. I did keep hearing that there were a “very limited number” of tickets left for Friday, so maybe that eventually sold out too. When I look at it, I like most of the artists on the lineup for this year, but I’m not overly passionate about a lot of them. It made for another fine festival overall and I’m glad I saw what I did, but for whatever reason it sometimes felt like something was missing. Not a whole lot of artists really jumped out and grabbed me by the ears, so maybe that’s what it was. If I were put in charge of naming one act each day that was my favorite, the list would be the following: Friday – Bjork, Saturday – Savages, Sunday – Killer Mike. Of all the days, I’d classify Friday as my least favorite, primarily because many of the artists that performed that day were either relatively bland (Woods, Mikal Cronin) or didn’t quite feel like they belonged at an outdoor festival (Angel Olsen, Joanna Newsom). Perhaps I should have made it to Union Park in time for Trash Talk, I heard their set was crazy.

Music aside, let me comment on the amenities this year. Considering the capacity of Union Park every year, festival organizers have gotten everything at just about the right levels to make things comfortable. The restrooms are plentiful and you’ll never wait too long for one. The food booths offer a wide variety of cuisine for even the most sensitive of palates or dietary restrictions. I had some amazing tacos on Sunday. The return of Goose Island as the provider of alcoholic beverages was an inspired move. The availability of key beers like 312 and Green Line was nice, but even nicer was the special Goose Island booth that had a rotating cast of different beers from the brewer’s catalogue, not to mention two beers crafted exclusively for the festival. I tried both of the fest-exclusive beers, and they were delicious. The singular gripe I have, and it’s basically always been a problem, is with water fountains. Union Park has a distinct lack of water fountains, and therefore the few it does have resulted in long lines. There’s nothing that can really be done about that, but I’ve got to hand it to the volunteer crew at the festival for often walking around with cases of bottled water, handing them out to anybody that wanted one. A lot of people were likely spared a trip to the medical tent as a result of such gestures, though I did see at least a few people go down due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. On the whole, this year’s festival went rather swimmingly, where the sets all started on schedule and the lines were never astronomically or annoyingly huge. It’s a sharp reminder that no matter what the lineup might be, this is one of the best-run music festivals in the country. As I stated in my earlier coverage, Pitchfork Music Festival weekend is my favorite weekend every single year I attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true again by the time we reach the end of 2013.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Sunday Recap

Phew, what a weekend! As usual, I’m feeling quite a bit drained from three long days of experiencing the dizzying highs and physical tolls of attending a music festival. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older, I can tell you that. Judging by the average age of the attendees this year, I’m beginning to fall on the older half of the spectrum. In spite of this, I’m never less than excited to attend the Pitchfork Music Festival each year, as I consistently claim it is my favorite weekend of the 52 that take place annually. So I may be tired and writing about the festival in a timely manner has brought its own set of unique challenges, but I’m not anything less than satisfied with how everything turned out. I’ll have my final set of thoughts on how I think the festival went this year, along with a massive photo set from the entire weekend, coming up in the next few days. In the meantime, please enjoy this summary of all the acts I saw perform on Day 3 of the festival, aka Sunday.

Show Review: Japandroids + Crocodiles [Metro; Chicago; 6/11/13]

Japandroids like to refer to themselves as a touring band. They’ve said in many an interview that if they could get away with it, they’d simply tour all the time and never actually record new albums. As such, in the last year since the release of their second record Celebration Rock, they’ve been around the world and back a couple times. They’ve played shows in Chicago at least three, if not four times in the last 365 days and show no signs of slowing down. Crowds love the band, and in turn the band loves the crowds. Their albums purposely sound like their live performances, because they design them that way to achieve maximum quality control. A Japandroids show at this point has become less of a concert and more of an event. You don’t just go to a Japandroids show, you experience it, and that requires preparation. They’re such a thrilling live act, especially for a duo, that they can sell out the 1,100 capacity Metro well in advance, even though they already came through town a few months earlier. The people that love this band truly LOVE them, and their dedication shows when they turn up in force time and time again.

Before getting to the intense and dynamic show that Japandroids put on this hot summer night in mid-June, I want to turn the attention to the band that opened the show, Crocodiles. If you’ve never heard a Crocodiles song before, you’re missing out on one of the great lo-fi, garage rock revivalist bands of this current era. That’s intended to be a compliment, however this band hasn’t exactly won the affection of a lot of critics as they draw unfavorable comparisons to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. The basic reaction from many seems to be that they’re a one trick pony who have found their sound and plan to stick with it, each new album providing slight variations on the same melodies. It’s not hard to agree with that sentiment, however the real truth is that this band has been refining and focusing their talents with each new album on a quest to be the best at what they do. Their situation (and sound, actually) remind me a lot of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, another band that’s been critically misunderstood over the years, but who have managed to establish a strong, loyal fan base anyways. We can’t help what attracts us to a particular sound, even when we know plenty of others will disagree with us. While I’ve heard their first three albums as well as their fourth coming out in August and can definitely verify that they keep getting better on record, what I can’t tell you is if the same thing is true for their live shows. This was my first time seeing Crocodiles perform live, and in that regard I can proclaim it a rousing success. The band sounds absolutely great, not only accurately recreating the sound of their records, but doing so with additional energy and aplomb. The four guys on stage appeared to be having a good time, and with a set that featured old favorites and a couple of intense new ones, the crowd seemed to soak in that same vibe. While most were undoubtedly there to see Japandroids, there were some that already knew what Crocodiles was capable of and wanted to make sure they were present for that set as well. Those such as myself who had never seen them before but had heard good things were pleasantly surprised at how accurate the rumors truly were. These guys remain a band to keep an eye on, with the thought that maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to sell out a venue like Metro all by themselves.

Buy Crocodiles’ Endless Flowers

The first thing I realized when watching Japandroids launch into their song “Adrenaline Nightshift” at the start of their set was that this would mark the very first time I’ve ever seen the band perform a full set. I’d seen them three times prior to this, but each took place at a music festival or radio session, meaning they had limited time and could essentially only play half-sets. Granted, those 45-minute half-sets were really damn good, but suddenly now that they’ve got 90+ minutes to do whatever they’d like the focus automatically turns away from the immediate new album concerns and instead towards the breadth of their seemingly small catalogue. But despite the fact that they’ve only got two full lengths to their names, they made sure to give each one its due while also tossing in non-album cuts and covers to keep it spicy. So while there was “Heart Sweats” and “Wet Hair” off the Post-Nothing record (those song titles also describe how the band and crowd would feel by the end), there was the great inclusion of “Art Czars” and the brief reference back to “Press Corps” off the band’s little-known 2007 EP All Lies which also later appeared on the Japandroids compilation No Singles. So there was quite a bit of diversity in the set list, with the requisite Celebration Rock cuts like “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “The House That Heaven Built” fitting right in next to “Rockers East Vancouver” and such.

As great as it is to see a crowd sing and sometimes shout along with the band, the set list itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the band’s blitzkrieg approach in their live shows. See, the duo of Brian King and David Prowse make a whole lot of noise and perform with a whole lot of force to the point where you refuse to believe that they didn’t leave everything out there on the stage that night. No wonder they love performing so much, because the crowds soak it up like what they’re doing is magic. In many ways it is, because so few bands play with such intensity and vigor. Well, maybe passion is the right word to use. How anyone can get excited about performing almost the same set of songs night after night is a mystery to me, but in the end it probably has more to do with the fans than anything else. They want to make sure that when you walk away from their show, you’re going to have a lasting memory of it etched into your brain. Hopefully all the moshing and other intense movements the crowd was doing for most of the show didn’t give anyone brain damage (though if you ask me, if you’re in a mosh pit your brain might already be damaged). Normally those sorts of things are frowned upon at shows, but as King himself yelled at the start of the set, “Tonight there are no rules!” There were even a couple of people that climbed over the barricade and took stage dives, because I’m sure the band is used to it by now. Overall it wound up being a crazy yet incredible evening of live music, and one I certainly won’t soon forget. If you have the chance to see either Japandroids or Crocodiles perform live, jump at the opportunity, for the very reasons I just described.

Buy Japandroids’ Celebration Rock

Show Review: Rhye [Schubas; Chicago; 4/11/13]

“To make tonight’s show a more intimate experience, the artist has asked that you refrain from taking photos, talking or opening and closing the venue doors during the performance. We will also be closing the bar at the back of the venue in the next few minutes for the same reason, so please purchase any drinks you might want during the show now. Thank you.” That was the announcement made shortly before Rhye took the stage on a rainy Thursday night in April at Schubas. In case you hadn’t heard the message, there were also signs posted all over the venue that said “The artist requests no photos during tonight’s performance.” As such, there is/are no photo(s) accompanying this show review. Ironically, there are very few photos of the duo known as Rhye in existence, live or otherwise. They’re a band somewhat built on mystery, at least in the sense that they’d rather let the music speak for itself rather than bombard you with other associations to attach to it. For their live performance, the last thing you should have been doing was staring at the stage through the screen of your smartphone. That creates an invisible wall between the artist and the audience member. The goal is to devote your full attention to what’s coming out of the speakers, and it’s similarly distracting if you run to the restroom, chat with a friend or go order more drinks. Rhye make intimate, bedroom music that’s earned plenty of comparisons to Sade and The xx, and it’s difficult to achieve the intended effect if your head is somehwhere else.

So from my vantage point towards the front of the venue, everyone complied with the band’s instructions (except that one guy standing next to me, who snapped a very quick photo during the final song). Was the show better as a result? I’d say absolutely. As much as I try to respect and give all my attention to the stage, most shows I snap a few photos and might grab a drink mid-set if I’m close to the bar. With a hushed room and nobody standing in front of me with their phone or digital camera in the air, I didn’t get annoyed a single time during the full 50 minute set, which is an accomplishment. Much more accomplished however was what happened on stage. The lights were set to a minimum level, to the point where an exit sign next to the stage was the brightest thing in the room, and there were lit candles everywhere from atop amps to the stage floor. It was a wonder nobody kicked one over. Rhye is the duo of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, but in a live setting it’s only Milosh with five backing musicians because Hannibal doesn’t tour. It made for a fascinating set up, primarily because the songs on the band’s debut album Woman are so minimalist in their construction. To have six people on stage for that ultimately meant expanding what was already there. That wound up applying to not only the overall sound, but the length of the compositions as well. “Last Dance” got a fun little trombone solo thrown in during the bridge that not only got the crowd riled up, but the rest of the band too. Milosh signaled his keyboard player to keep playing at the end of “Major Minor Love,” which he did for a bit while the rest of the band looked on amused. The strings and drums each got their own times to shine during the bridge of “Open” as well, really hammering home the point Milosh made between songs mid-set: that hearing extended or different takes on songs you’re familiar with brings them to life in new and interesting ways. It keeps the audience and the band on their toes, which is really what you want out of every live show.

Not everything about Rhye’s set worked. It felt like there was a key misstep relatively early in the set during “The Fall,” one of the band’s key singles and most upbeat tracks. What could have turned into a small dance party instead stumbled when the tempo of the song purposely slowed to a crawl for its midsection. Basically, one minute there was a good groove going, the next it was a stoic ballad, and the next the crowd was hit with smelling salts as the pace returned to normal. Why such a choice was made is a mystery, though it’s likely for the same reasons the extended jam sessions on other tracks happened. Everything else, including “3 Days,” “Shed Some Blood” and “Hunger,” were perfectly situated in the set and sounded fantastic. Because they’ve only got one album, things started to get a bit dicey towards the end. There was no opening band, which also helped give everyone the feeling like there should be so much more to go. Alas, after about 40 minutes Milosh candidly apologized to the crowd as they cheered for more, explaining that they were out of songs and were going to have to wrap things up without an encore. Technically speaking he was wrong, because the band never played “One of Those Summer Days” or the title track “Woman,” but to be fair those are also the slowest and weakest tracks on the debut album. They closed things out with the song “It’s Over,” which is actually a song off of Milosh’s 2006 solo record Meme, which I’m sure most if not all of the crowd hadn’t heard before. It was a perfectly lovely ballad, but also felt a little out of place and lacking the pure beauty and charm that the Rhye tracks have going for them.

For a show that was so restrictive/demanding in its requests for audience behavior, it’d be easy to think that you weren’t allowed to have any fun or that it might be difficult to have fun given the circumstances. It really was the band’s candor and Milosh’s moderately comedic banter between songs that put everyone more at ease and helped turn the show from stoic intimacy to playful intimacy. If you ask me, that’s the best kind of intimacy. And that voice! There were audible gasps from the crowd the moment Milosh first started to sing, because it seemed so unlikely that the voice you hear on the record could be replicated with such ease. He made it all look and sound pretty effortless, and beyond that the rest of the band would occasionally add five-part harmonies that made perfect use of the venue, the atmosphere and the quiet, attentive crowd. It’s hard to believe that this band can sound so great and so professional when they’ve only played a handful of live shows in their existence. With any luck, there will be hundreds more to come, complete with fans who understand that even music’s most intimate moments can be charming and great when performed live so long as you’re respectful and attentive of the material.

Buy Rhye’s debut album Woman from Amazon

Set List
3 Days
The Fall
Shed Some Blood
Last Dance
Major Minor Love
It’s Over (Milosh cover)

Show Review: Darwin Deez [Schubas Tavern; Chicago; 3/22/13]

To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest Darwin Deez fan in the world. I don’t dislike the guy (whose real name is Darwin Smith), and I think he makes some remarkably addictive and sometimes goofy indie pop songs through a simplistic lens, but there are times to me when it seems like he’s trying a little too hard. That’s much more apparent on his second album Songs for Imaginative People, which beefs up his sound a bit more but forgoes some of the lighthearted and silly elements that made his self-titled debut such a treat. Obviously he wants to move beyond whatever labels that have plagued him in the past, however if he’s not true to himself then you get those forced situations that turn people off. That serious, all-business side of him thankfully failed to show itself during his show at Schubas Tavern this past Friday night. It was clear right from the get-go that Deez and his band had every intention of putting on an off-the-charts fun show, and I’m pleased to report that they did just that.

It started with a choreographed dance number. All four guys in the band stood across the stage and grooved to a beat in unison for about 30 seconds, before going to pick up their instruments. The crowd loved it, so of course they’d do it a couple more times during the set. Consider them little interludes connecting the songs, because there certainly wasn’t a whole lot of between song banter. Deez didn’t need it though, because in many ways his songs said everything he wanted them to anyways. It was a very smart set list, split almost evenly between his two full lengths to date, and he hit all the necessary highlights. The crowd went nuts for classic cuts like “Radar Detector” and “DNA,” but moments like “You Can’t Be My Girl” and the ballad “Redshift” off the new album struck like lightning too. That a weaker track or two like “Good to Lose” and “All in the Wrist” popped up and didn’t really detract from the overall success of the set either suggests they improve in a live setting or are raised to a higher level thanks to the songs that surround them. Whatever the reason for that, things went very smoothly overall and there was rarely a lag in the energy or mood on stage or in the crowd. When they weren’t doing choreographed dances, most of the band members were bouncing around in the small space of the Schubas stage. Everyone in the audience was in a tight spot too, as the show was sold out, but that didn’t stop the toe taps, hip thrusts and alcohol-infused sing-alongs. You really couldn’t have asked for much more out of a Darwin Deez show, and why would you? The guy may not be the most brilliant musician in the world, but he knows how to leave you wanting more both on record and on stage. To many, that’s worth its weight in gold.

Darwin Deez – You Can’t Be My Girl

Buy Darwin Deez music

U.S. Tour Dates
March 26th – Pittsburgh, PA at Stage AE
March 27th – Cleveland, OH at Beachland Tavern
March 28th – Buffalo, NY at Soundlab
March 29th – Toronto, ON at The Garison
March 30th – Montreal, QC at Casa del Popolo
March 31st – Burlington , VT at Signal Kitchen
April 1st – Northampton, MA at Iron Horse
April 2nd – Allston at Brighton Music Hall
April 3rd – New York, NY at Bowery Ballroom
April 4th – Philadelphia, PA at First Unitarian Church
April 5th – Washington at Black Cat

Show Review: Kate Nash + Supercute! [Empty Bottle; Chicago; 3/18/13]

St. Patrick’s Day is a big party holiday. Just take one good look in any bar and you’ll likely see it packed with people drinking green beer. Call it tradition or whatever else you want, so long as there’s an excuse to have kegs and eggs at eight in the morning. This year the holiday fell on a Sunday, which with most people having work the next morning, might make you think things would be calmer. Not so much the case, from my experience. The reason I bring it up is because many probably woke up with a severe hangover on Monday morning, which led to a long day of vowing to never drink again. That wasn’t my Monday, but for many of my friends it was. It’s telling that none of them were available to attend an evening of girls with guitars on Monday night at the Empty Bottle. The two bands on the bill were Supercute! and Kate Nash, a show that had been sold out for months in advance. Before the show, I found myself asking, “Is Kate Nash really that popular?” because honestly I know very few people that might consider themselves fans of hers, and those that are tend to reference her debut Made of Bricks more than anything else. She came out of the stew of Myspace discovered artists back in the mid-00s and sort of followed in Lily Allen’s footsteps but as more of a second or third fiddle to her “fuck you” pop star act. Yet here we are in 2013, and Allen is all but a faded memory having retired from music a couple years back. Meanwhile Nash presses onward and carves her own unique path and apparently a die hard fan base with it. I’ve liked all her records, but also tend to forget about them after six months. I went to the show for a couple reasons: 1) Nash has a new record out called Girl Talk that’s pretty good. 2) I’ve never seen her perform live before, and that’s something I’ve been meaning to do. 3) Supercute! was opening for her, and I was particularly interested in hearing what they would have to offer.

So let’s start with Supercute!, because they were first up for the evening. If you’ve never heard of Supercute! before, they’re an all-teen, all-girl four piece band from NYC. Their ages range from as young as 13 to as old as 19. The band was started in 2009 by Rachel Trachtenburg (who played drums as a member of The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players starting at age six) and her friend Julia Cumming. They wrote some goofy songs about candy and boys and such together using ukuleles and keyboards, which then led to performances and studio recordings. They’ve only expanded from there, adding new members and releasing singles and building a fan base show by show. Kate Nash has been a Trachtenburg family friend for several years, and she’s really taken Supercute! under her wing and done most of her touring with them in recent years. Nash also produced their debut album DON’T PoP MY BUBBLE, which will officially be released on June 11th. In their short 20 minute set, they mostly stuck to new material, though some of what qualifies as “new” they’ve been playing live for quite awhile now. Still, even the songs they’ve been performing for years got some new life injected into them thanks to their beefed up and more aggressive approach. The ukuleles and keyboards are still present, but play much less of a prominent role thanks to the addition of bass and electric guitars. Their songs, while often lighthearted and goofy, were also thrown a little off-kilter into a darker and more psychedelic territory. It’s fascinating because the girls have on these colorful outfits and makeup, and you’ll wind up with their songs in your head, but your brain is equal parts impressed and scared. While they’re clearly very talented and have a big future ahead of them, there’s also a weird sense of concern that maybe they’re growing up a little too fast. You could say they’re almost a modern-day version of The Runaways, though not as brash or sexualized. Their live show is solid, but also needs a little bit of fine tuning that will work itself out the more they tour. I may not be anywhere near the teenage girl demographic that Supercute! are aiming their music towards, but I still enjoyed and appreciated their set. Others in the 21+ crowd did as well, as I overheard a guy behind me say to his friend in near disbelief, “They were really good.” So chalk up another ringing endorsement for this band, they’re one to keep an eye on.

Watch the video for the new Supercute! single “Love Love Leave Love” off their forthcoming album
Buy Supercute! music on Bandcamp
Check out the Supercute! website

Oh, what can I say about Kate Nash? She’s an absolute delight, and it’s easy to understand why her fans are so devoted to her. Devoted to the point where they crowd funded her new album Girl Talk after she fell from the graces of a major label record deal for wanting to take a different direction with her sound. It’s eerily similar to what Amanda Palmer pulled off a few months earlier, though Nash didn’t get a million dollars in donations like Palmer did. In the end it really doesn’t matter how much money you make, so long as you make enough to keep doing what you want to do. And now the completely liberated Nash wants to play the bass and prove she can rock just as hard as any guy. To me, such an evolution was inevitable for her and I had no doubt she could pull it off, but apparently her label was looking for the next Regina Spektor instead of the next Courtney Love. Okay so she’s not a hot mess with more drugs and alcohol in her veins than blood, but she does have a similar vocal range to pull off syrupy sweet one moment and a rage-filled wail the next. That balance of dark and light is all over her new album, and in essence bled into her live show as well. She started with “Sister” and its deep bass line, which eventually turns into a raucous punk rock groove complete with some guttural vocal acrobatics. That sort of visceral and cutting anger boiled to the surface more than a few times throughout the show, in particular on songs like “I Just Love You More,” the old b-side “Model Behaviour” and her cover of FIDLAR’s “Cocaine,” which she retitled “Grrrl Gang.” Much of it was rather “riot grrrl” in nature, with Nash and her all-female backing band really making the most of their talents by taking even the poppiest songs and dirtying them up a bit. “Foundations” is the song that brought her to the attention to a lot of people in ’06-’07, and while she’s basically obligated to perform it at all her shows from here to eternity, she by no means has to keep it in the same bubblegum piano pop arena of the recorded version. The guitars don’t exactly transform the song into something entirely different, they just bring some additional forcefulness and speed that strips some of the charm but allows the lyrics to take more precedence, which is kind of nice.

Obviously a fair amount of the set list was populated with Girl Talk tracks as that’s what this tour is supporting, but everything else was a great mixture of older material, rarities and covers. Her take on “My Chinchilla,” a song by early ’90s Canadian indie pop girl band Cub (which counted Neko Case as a member for a brief period) felt like it was made for her to sing, as is blended so effortlessly with her charming and witty personality. Her between song banter was one of the show’s greatest highlights, and made all the more amusing by members of the crowd yelling things at her. “I just really want to touch you!” a girl at the front of the stage yelled. Nash thought for a moment, then wandered over to her and extended her arm, which the girl touched for a brief moment. “It’s been awhile [since somebody touched me],” Nash said with a wink after it happened. A couple songs later, someone (apparently a man) threw a bra on stage. “Oh wow, thank you,” Nash said sarcastically before following up with, “By the way, what kind of man brings a bra with him to throw on stage?” That’s the sort of vibe you get from people late on a Monday night after St. Patrick’s Day I guess. When she wasn’t busy interacting with the crowd, she also told funny stories like the time she accidentally knocked out one of her front teeth. But one of the things that really struck me was how she also took a few moments to talk about the charity she’s working with called Because I am a Girl. It’s a campaign designed to protect and empower women in developing countries and provide them opportunities they might not normally have to achieve their dreams. I am not a woman nor do I live in a developing country, but I admire the cause and hope you’ll consider donating. Hopefully you’ll also consider donating to the well-being of Kate Nash’s career by buying her new record or going to see a show. While I’ve always liked her music, I’ve never been as passionate about it as I have been with other artists. Now that I’ve seen her perform, I walked away an even bigger fan than I was going in. It’s always a great show when something like that happens.

Kate Nash – Death Proof (CSS Remix)

Watch the video for “Under-estimate the Girl”
Watch the video for “Death Proof”

Buy Girl Talk from Amazon
See the set list and tour dates after the jump!

Show Review: Other Lives + Indians [Schubas; Chicago; 12/7/12]

On a dark, cold and somewhat rainy night in Chicago, the tour that is Other Lives and Indians rolled into town for one final gasp of air before disappearing for awhile. See, Other Lives have been on tour for what seems like forever. They released their second full length Tamer Animals in mid-2011, and have barely taken a break since then. They’ve been around the world and back multiple times, and were even offered a slot opening for Radiohead for the first leg of their King of Limbs tour in early 2012. By the time they showed up in Chicago for the first of two shows, this particular leg of 40+ American dates extended back to mid-October. But Chicago was the final stop, at which point they promised no more touring for awhile as they worked steadily to complete their next album. Fresh 4AD signee Indians has also been with them for this last set of dates, touring in advance of the debut album Somewhere Else, due out in January. So how did both bands fare after so much time on the road and the end in sight? Read on to find out.

Søren Løkke Juul is the name of the Copenhagen multi-instrumentalist behind the name Indians, and though press materials often reference a band along with the word “they,” the genuine reality is it’s just the one guy. Well, he has a friend that helps with stage set-up and take down and runs the soundboard during the show, but Juul is the only person on stage, at least for the time being. Like many great singer-songwriters, there’s a good chance a couple people might eventually join up with him to help make performing live easier and better. That’s not to say he was bad though, because there was something thrilling and impressive about the way he twisted knobs, pushed buttons, and played keyboards and guitars, sometimes all in the course of a single song. He’s clearly very talented, even if he looks a little lonely on stage. But this was the way he originally constructed the songs that will appear on the first Indians album, before being given a budget and a studio and a couple extra hands to help flesh out some very raw demos. All things considered, 2012 has worked out quite well for Juul, as he’s gone from playing his first live shows ever this past February in his hometown, to getting a record deal, studio time and a world tour. In essence, the shrink wrap has barely been removed on this project that is likely to lead to big things for 2013. For now though, you could say that Indians are still a bit green when it comes to performances. With more than 40 shows under his belt on this fall tour alone, surely Juul has grown in confidence and stage presence, but he’s not quite there yet. Maybe it’s a product of trying to do too much on his own, or maybe as he continues to tour things will only get better.

At bigger issue are the songs themselves. When he’s got a guitar in hand, Indians can sound a little like The Tallest Man on Earth crossed with M. Ward. When working on keyboards or other electronic elements, he can be a Toro y Moi or Baths. Almost everything sounds like something you’ve heard before in one context or another, and none of it particularly stands out or is strikingly catchy. Perhaps that’s more to do with the way these songs were performed rather than how they actually sound on record. The album version of “Cakelakers” (MP3) for example sounds positively radiant compared to the shrug-worthiness of how it was done live. Still, it seems unlikely that Indians are a future success story among intense music lovers, at least not until he starts to push and strain against his current limitations. Keep one eye on this guy though – the crowd at Schubas really seemed to like him, and he was warm and friendly to every fan that approached him after the show. Kindness might not win you awards and critical acclaim, but connecting with people no matter how good or bad your music is can in many ways be an even greater currency throughout your career.

Preorder Indians’ Somewhere Else from 4AD

When it comes to Other Lives, awards and critical acclaim also aren’t on the list (yet), but that doesn’t seem to bother them any. With good reason too, because it’s strikingly easy to enjoy one of their records while appreciating the sheer talent that went into making it. Their sound is largely based in folk with Fleet Foxes-like harmonies, but their ability to incorporate everything from horns to xylophones to cello and piano adds a sense of effortless beauty to the proceedings. Watching them pull it off live is that much more impressive of a feat, as pretty much everyone in the band plays multiple instruments on every song. The energy they bring to their performances is both literally and figuratively electric too, as frontman Jesse Tabish will pound on his piano, smash a few cymbals and generally jump around his part of the stage while various lightbulbs flicker on and off in time with the music. It’s a relatively unique stage setup, one that embraces the showmanship of bigger bands playing in bigger venues, but on a more modest budget. Other Lives would have put on equally interesting show had they not used the oversized on-stage lightbulbs, but there was something indiscreetly charming about them anyways. There was an energy and a passion to their set that just grabbed hold of you and wouldn’t let go. They extend songs where they can get away with it, and make a sharp left turn into a cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” during the bridge of one of their own tracks, simply because there’s a similar chord progression. Transformations in tracks like “For 12” and “Dust Bowl III” somehow reach new heights compared to their studio versions, and on occasion the thought hits you that this is a band trying to push themselves. They’ve been on tour for so long and played these songs so many times, instead of getting bored with them, they’re finding new and creative ways to take what works in them and place greater emphasis on those elements. It’s one of the big reasons why seeing them live is essential to truly appreciating their songs and records.

They played a new song towards the end of their set, and it fit in well with everything else that they’ve done to this point, which can be viewed as good or bad depending on how you feel about that earlier work. The encore was entertaining too, because Tabish came out to play a song solo on just a keyboard, but apparently broke his on the final song of the main set. So he used one of the other keyboards on stage and it worked out okay. That broken keyboard wasn’t so much an accident as it was the result of a show where the band truly gave their all, and a few smashed keys was part of it. Schubas is apparently a very special venue for the band, and undoubtedly they treated their performance as such. The following night Other Lives had their final show of the tour at Schubas sister venue Lincoln Hall. It’s nearly double the size and boasts a powerful, modern sound system that makes Schubas sound almost meek by comparison. It’s the venue that this band has grown into, on the road to even bigger and better things. Yet in so many regards you can’t beat the intimacy and charm that Schubas has in spades. The point being, while it’s kind of Other Lives to essentially underplay a show in Chicago because they like the venue, it may also be the last time they do it as their popularity continues to rise. It might be six months or a year or longer before Other Lives have a new record and are ready to tour again, and when they finally do, it’s going to be an event not to be missed no matter how good or bad the new songs sound. I walked into Schubas on a rainy Friday night in December with the expectation of hearing some pleasant songs from a pleasant band. What I got was an intense, impressive show that turned me into an instant convert. Other Lives are the real deal.

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Show Review: New Order [Aragon Ballroom; Chicago; 10/21/12]

Let’s go over a brief history of New Order. In the wake of the tragedy that was Ian CUrtis’ suicide, the remaining members of Joy Division decided to become New Order, with guitarist Bernard Sumner taking over the role of frontman. While Joy Division was an influential band that will likely remain legendary because of what they accomplished in a very short duration, it’s New Order that really earned their keep, building critical acclaim with music that was essentially ahead of its time. Many have followed in the sonic footsteps of New Order, but none have had been able to replicate their success in quite the same way. As is natural though, they were also a band of a very specific time and place. They were around for the explosion of the Manchester music scene, signed to Factory Records thanks to the insane brilliance of Tony Wilson, and were pretty much given free range to do whatever the hell they wanted with such opportunities. You can’t get a deal that great these days no matter what band you’re in. But the ’90s weren’t as kind to New Order, and they broke up in 1993 to pursue side projects. They got back together in 1998, made a couple more albums and did a couple more tours before breaking up again in 2007. This time, the breakup was more the result of bassist Peter Hook refusing to work with Sumner any more. Sumner subsequently announced he no longer wanted to make music under the New Order name. While all the other guys in the band (including Sumner) went on to do more side projects, Hook chose to dig up the past and began playing old Joy Division albums in full with a backing band he called The Light. While some were excited by that prospect, many felt that Hook was doing damage to Joy Division’s legacy and was clearly only out to make money off the corpse of Ian Curtis. Perhaps in part to protect their own legacy, New Order officially reformed in late 2011 without Hook, but with keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, who had left the band more than 10 years earlier to become a wife and mother. They played a handful of shows in late 2011 and early 2012, but didn’t make it to North America until this fall, where a short tour rolled through Chicago this past Sunday night. Here is a recap of how things went.

It’s been seven years since New Order played a show in Chicago, and to my understanding that show was a little shaky. A friend told me the band was using lyrics sheets and teleprompters to get through most of the songs. When you’ve been around for a few decades, I guess your memory can get fuzzy. But lyrical crutches aside, I guess their energy was also a little down. One wonders if tensions between band members (or just Hook) caused problems back then. Whatever their issues might have been, they showed no signs of fatigue or bad memory during their show at the Aragon Sunday night. Every note was hit and every lyric was correct. Looking at reviews of the band’s show in New York a couple days earlier, that wasn’t entirely the case, as Sumner reportedly forgot some of the words to “Ceremony.” Better to have that happen though then to stand there reading off a sheet of paper. Even the best bands forget a verse or two now and then. But like all the other shows on this tour, New Order has been smart and stuck with a veritable greatest hits melange of career-spanning material. They spread it out generously over two hours, though it’s tough to top the first few songs that included “Crystal,” “Regret,” “Ceremony,” “Age of Consent” and “Love Vigilantes.” What’s just a little odd was the crowd reaction to those songs. While the band appeared to be in top form, in particular on “Ceremony,” it seemed exceptionally tough to get people motivated to dance. These were glossy ’80s hits that continue to provide inspiration to club DJs around the world, yet I saw very little movement outside of head bobbing in the early part of the set. Now once “Bizarre Love Triangle” landed about 10 songs in, it was like a switch flipped and everybody woke up. Suddenly even a deep cut off Power, Corruption & Lies like “5 8 6” was met with some sharp dance moves. Of course it was all building to something, and the final 1-2 punch of “Blue Monday” and “Temptation” sent everyone into a frenzy the likes of which I haven’t seen since LCD Soundsystem a couple years ago. For those final 15 minutes, the disco ball dropped and I think New Order shined as brightly as they did in their ’80s heyday.

For all the critical tongue lashing I give to Peter Hook for playing Joy Division albums in full these days, when New Order chose to play an encore of Joy Division songs it didn’t feel as cheap. After all, they’ve been throwing a couple Joy Divison songs into their sets for decades now. They’re always used as toppers on an already great show, and always in expressed tribute to Ian Curtis. They present the songs with reverence so it doesn’t come off as cheap exploitation. After all, most of them were as much a part of Joy Division as Curtis was, it’s only his trademark baritone that’s missing from the proceedings. But my what a baritone it was. Sumner can’t quite get there no matter how hard he tries. Their rendition of “Heart and Soul” was okay, but the crowd didn’t react well to it, probably because it was a deep cut on Closer. “Atmosphere” was triumphant in its own way, and the background video did draw some big cheers. Of course it was only fitting to close the night with “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and it gave everyone the opportunity to dance around one last time. With that, the band waved goodnight to their adoring fans. Everyone left with a smile on their face and sweat on their bodies, which is a testament that a good night was had by all. The absence of Hook may have given many the impression that this wasn’t a legitimate New Order show, but anybody that has seen the band since he left will likely tell you that Tom Chapman is a solid if not great replacement for him. New Order’s future is likely that of Pavement’s or At the Drive-In’s in recent years – they will tour for a set period of time to play the hits, and then once again vanish into the ether as everyone returns to their side projects. It’s probably better that way, to keep their legacy as strong as possible. Whatever they choose to do next, it’s just refreshing to know that a veteran band like this hasn’t really lost a step, and that their music still feels as relevant today as it did when it was first created.

Set List
Age of Consent
Love Vigilantes
Here to Stay
Your Silent Face
Close Range
Bizarre Love Triangle
5 8 6
True Faith
The Perfect Kiss
Blue Monday
Heart and Soul (Joy Division)
Atmosphere (Joy Division)
Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)

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Show Review: Silversun Pickups + School of Seven Bells + Atlas Genius [Aragon Ballroom; Chicago; 9/21/12]

Friday, September 21st was officially the last day of summer 2012. You wouldn’t know it had you gone outside in Chicago though, as temperatures were in the 50s for most of the day and the skies were gray and rainy. Sometimes you just want one more warm and sunny day though, before it’s too late. In spite of the weather, life goes on and good things continue to happen in other aspects of our lives. A show where the bill is Atlas Genius, School of Seven Bells and Silversun Pickups sounds pretty dynamite, right? Well, that tour made its way to Chicago on Friday night, stopping at the Aragon Ballroom for some end of summer fun. Here’s a quick look at how things went.

Have you heard of Atlas Genius yet? If not, now’s probably the time to start paying attention to them. Their debut EP Through the Glass has already yielded a budding hit with the song “Trojans,” and a debut album is in the works for early 2013. As a band on the rise, of course they have to pay their dues, though fortunately for them that means playing at the Aragon to a couple thousand people rather than at a small club with only a couple hundred. The peril of being on a big tour though is always that you go on first, and with this being an all ages show, that meant hitting the stage at about 7pm. The average start time for a concert in Chicago is probably about 9pm, and even then a venue typically isn’t full until an hour or two later. So the Aragon was close to half full when Atlas Genius started their set, which for all practical purposes was pretty decent. They started with “Back Seat” off their EP and powered through a few new songs before very naturally ending with “Trojans.” They were arguably the most energetic and entertaining band of the entire night, playing with the sort of carefree joy that young and hungry artists have if they’re doing it right. Sometimes you will show up early and encounter a band that’s not quite ready for primetime but still has a little spark that suggests great potential for the future. In the relatively short time they’ve been around, Atlas Genius have exceeded reasonable expectations. They worked the crowd at the Aragon with charm and enthusiasm, and they responded in kind. It’s just a shame there weren’t more people around to witness it.

Atlas Genius – Trojans

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One of the more fascinating dichotomies of this particular show was that while Atlas Genius has only one EP and a budding radio hit, School of Seven Bells have three full length albums and zero radio hits. In this increasingly digital and mp3 world, you’d think such stats wouldn’t mean much, but it turns out more young people are listening to terrestrial radio than you might think. There were large portions of the crowd that had at least heard of Atlas Genius but didn’t know School of Seven Bells. It created that much more of a challenge for SVIIB to win people over. The enthusiasm didn’t quite carry over into their set, and it didn’t help that they started a little shaky. “Windstorm” is actually a single of theirs and certainly isn’t one of their weaker tracks, but it trod a midtempo ground that left the audience at attention but not exactly inspired. That frontwoman Alejandra Deheza and guitarist Benjamin Curtis stayed pretty glued to one spot for the entire set certainly didn’t give you much to look at on stage either. I’ve seen SVIIB a couple times in the last few years, always at venues about a third the size of the Aragon, and those shows were far more visceral and inspired than what they were dishing out this particular Friday night. Perhaps it was the set list or the absence of Alejandra’s sister Claudia, or even the sheer size and poor sound of the venue that caused things to be off. Maybe they just needed some time to warm up, too. After the first few songs, things started to click in place by the time “Lafaye” hit. Their final few songs were more beat-heavy and pulsated with an intense energy that started to get a lot of heads bobbing in the crowd. They finished with the song “Half Asleep,” their only nod to their excellent debut album Alpinisms, and there was a certain irony to the title. After spending much of the set with a positively lethargic audience, they were finally able to bring many out of that comatose state and into semi-consciousness. So they had that going for them, which was nice.

School of Seven Bells – The Night
School of Seven Bells – Lafaye

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When it comes to headliner status, the conditions are almost always just right. That is, the place is fully packed and there’s one act you know everybody is there to see. In this case it was Silversun Pickups, who like School of Seven Bells have three records to their name, but unlike School of Seven Bells have a handful of radio hits to back them up. If you haven’t heard songs like “Lazy Eye” or “Panic Switch” on your local radio station, then perhaps you heard them in a TV commercial or on a movie soundtrack, because they’ve kind of been everywhere. Back when they were first starting out, people compared them to the ’90s version of The Smashing Pumpkins, reasoning that if Billy Corgan hadn’t strayed from that path he was on to go more psychedelic it’s what the Pumpkins would sound like today. Considering how successful Silversun Pickups have been thus far, such a reference feels pretty apt. The size of the crowd on Friday night seemed to be a testament to that success too, because if the show wasn’t sold out it sure looked like a sell out. Frontman Brian Aubert marveled at how many people came out, particularly because the last time they played the Aragon it was only about 75% filled. That sort of humility and overall kindness towards the crowd actually went a long way as a counterbalance to the ferocity of their songs. With bassist Nikki Monninger sidelined for the moment while she’s pregnant with twins, Sarah Negahdari from The Happy Hollows filled in for what was her very first time in Chicago. That seemed strange to me because I thought The Happy Hollows have toured nationally at least a couple times in recent years, but whatever, she seemed genuinely excited to be there and the crowd made her feel more than welcome. After starting with the opening track “Skin Graph” off their new record Neck of the Woods, the band peppered much of their set with the hits people clearly wanted to hear. “The Royal We,” “Little Lover’s So Polite” and their latest single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” all showed up early on, quickly driving the crowd into a frenzy. Aubert moved around the stage with his guitar whenever he wasn’t locked behind a microphone, which also lent the show some extra energy that a rather pretty array of rainbow colored lighting couldn’t otherwise do. Overall it was about what you’d expect from a Silversun Pickups live show, and that’s not a bad thing. Better to meet expectations rather than fall short of them. The band has definitely improved with time, and Aubert has grown as a performer and ringleader too. Of course there’s always room for improvement, but for where they are in their careers right now they’re doing just fine on stage. Nobody walked out of the Aragon at the end of the night disappointed. Even the rain had the good sense to go away.

Silversun Pickups – Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)

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Lollapalooza 2012: Final Thoughts

This was Lollapalooza’s eighth year in Chicago, and in turn my eighth year in a row attending it. I’ve seen it transform from a tiny little four stage festival on one half of Grant Park to a monstrous behemoth of a fest complete with eight stages and multiple blocks of park space. I’ve stood through oppressive heat, severe thunderstorms, a lack of water and restrooms, gate crashers, mud pits, clinically insane crowds/bands, and those tiny little rocks that always seem to get into your shoes. This year introduced a new slice of fun: the total festival evacuation. And here I thought I’d seen everything. In spite of all those things, I’ve managed to have a whole lot of fun and get inspired by music all over again. It’s become a very well run festival, which I suppose is thanks in no small part to a generous volunteer staff and the huge revenues they make from it every year. Are there things that could still be improved? Sure, but it’s more minor stuff that likely isn’t a pressing concern for anyone. I’ll outline some of that, along with the best and worst music of the weekend right now in my Lollapalooza 2012 Winners and Losers.

Lollapalooza 2012: Sunday Recap

Well, put another one in the books: Lollapalooza 2012 is over. I had a whole lot of fun (as I do every year) and saw a whole lot of great music (which also happens every year). I’ll have a whole lengthy writeup on the weekend’s big winners and losers coming up in the next couple days, along with photo sets of pretty much every artist I saw. So yeah, there’s a little more Lolla coverage coming your way. In the meantime though, let me get to this quick summary of what happened on Day 3. The weather actually cooperated nicely, with a balmy 82 degree high temperature and barely a cloud in the sky. After the oppressive heat of Friday and the severe weather evacuation of Saturday, having one perfect day was just what the doctor ordered. My mental doctor also ordered that I stay home and rest just a little longer than the previous two days so I could make it all the way through still able to walk. Starting the day at noon or 1 PM and then partying until 2 or 3 AM is not a recipe for good health, so I’ve learned from personal experience. Anyways, here’s what I saw and my very brief impressions.

White Rabbits
They did everything a good band needs to do on stage. They were filled with energy and upbeat sentiments, and physicalized those things into something a crowd could get behind. Their double drummer attack and big melodies were very helpful too. Their albums might be a little lacking in creativity on the whole, but the songs morph into something else entirely when they’re performing them live.

The Walkmen
I very much like The Walkmen, but also promised myself I’d never go see them perform again because nothing could ever top the previous time I saw them. The reason I ultimately watched their set was because there wasn’t anything else good on, and it was on my way before Sigur Ros. In other words, The Walkmen were a choice borne out of convenience. That’s pretty much how they treated their set, too. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser may wail up a storm on stage with his gravelly voice, but there’s not much substance beyond that. So no, they were unable to do better than the last time I saw them.

Sigur Ros
Not only was Sigur Ros’ set one of my predetermined highlights of Sunday, but for me it was a highlight of the entire festival. While I was (and continue to be) upset over their 4 PM time slot (they performed at 8:30 PM at the Osheaga Festival two days earlier), it didn’t seem to matter much to the band. They were the same as they always are, soft, beautiful and somber melodies with explosive crescendos made of pure brute force, the whole thing anchored by Jonsi’s angelic voice. New song “Varúð” was part of their shortened festival set, and it fit in perfectly. With the vast size of Grant Park as their canvas, the band accompanied by their orchestral friends in Amiina painted a picture so beautiful you couldn’t help but be inspired.

Toro Y Moi
I wish I could say a lot of nice things about this set. The last Toro Y Moi record was really good, and hopefully the one coming out later this year will be too. The new songs previewed sounded solid, but then again so did pretty much everything. It was a lovely dance party if you were only listening to it, but watching was a whole other matter. The band may have been bobbing their heads while performing, but frontman Chaz Bundick didn’t seem to know how to engage the crowd. In other words, it was good, but it could have been much better.

At the Drive-In
If you saw At the Drive-In perform when they were still together over a decade ago, you understand the power of their performances. They’re high energy and intensely fun, with Cedric Bixler-Zavala as key ringleader and mischief-maker. Watching them reunited at Lolla, they haven’t lost a single step. Jumping off the bass drum and throwing the microphone stand into the air are just a couple of the wild things that happened during their set. Even technical difficulties couldn’t stop them from entertaining the crowd, filling the time with awkward stage banter that encouraged people to throw their shoes on stage. What’s missing in the end is only a deeper connection to the crowd. ATDI are a band of the people, and having them perform atop a high stage was almost like the difference between animals in the zoo and animals in the wild. So long as it’s not life threatening, you want to be as close to the animals as possible.

After their set was cancelled thanks to the storm on Saturday, DJ Mel was bumped from Sunday evening’s lineup to make room for Chairlift instead. With a new album full of really catchy synth-pop songs to perform, they dove right in and never looked back. With Florence + the Machine having just finished their set at the neighboring stage and Jack White set to start on the opposite side of the park, odds were against Chairlift. The stage may have been larger than the one they were originally scheduled to perform on, but the crowd was arguably smaller thanks to those tough time slot choices. Their set left me pleased, especially when frontwoman Caroline Polachek spun around or clapped/snapped. Call it a harmless but rather enjoyable late Sunday night set.

Jack White
In case you didn’t know it already, Jack White is the MAN. He’s one of the best guitar players living today, and to hear him tear a song to shreds is invigorating and inspiring. Naturally then, his headlining set was exactly that, along with a fair amount of showmanship to elevate the whole thing. There was the blue and black color scheme, and the two different backing bands, one all male and the other all female. They switched them out in the middle of the set, and thanks to the quiet duet of “Love Interruption” it went seamlessly. There was material from his solo debut album, with a handful of tracks from his other projects including The White Stripes, The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. There were even a couple covers thrown in for good measure. Of the three major stage headlining performances I saw this past weekend, this was easily my favorite.

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