The best surprises are always the ones that you never see coming. Well I suppose that’s the definition of the word “surprise”, but I’d also say that some supposed surprises are easier to predict than others, like a TV show’s season-ending cliffhanger where the hero is in serious danger of being killed. You may be surprised to learn that at the start of a new season, the hero survives and escapes the deadly situation. Of course there’s also the bad surprise, where your hopes are high and are met with ultimate disappointment. But the surprise I’m talking about is the sort where you’ve got little to no expectation at the start, only to be completely floored and blown away by something incredible. Rarely do such surprises happen, and that’s really what makes them so special and immensely difficult to capture. Such a surprise happened to me on Saturday night, and as part of this show review, I’m obliged to tell you about it. But first, some finer details.

The venue is Lincoln Hall, the newest (and one of the hottest…booking-wise) concert venue in Chicago. It’s a late show, and The Futureheads are headlining a bill with The Like and The Static Jacks. After arriving a little late, I learned that The Static Jacks had already finished and The Like was preparing to start their set. My history with The Like has been a short one that I can sum up in a quick sentence. They released a debut album in 2005, which like their band name I moderately liked. They’re now releasing their second record this week. They are an all girl group who make relatively inoffensive but moderately catchy rock songs that primarily deal with the subject of boys and romance. It’s all far more intricate and developed than the almost “Plain Jane” exterior it might come off as, especially if you’re fully aware that a couple core members of the band are daughters of music industry veterans. Ignore that point and just listen to the music, because it’s definitely good enough to have come from a group of clearly talented individuals. That said, as a live act, The Like aren’t half bad either. Boasting a slightly revamped lineup that was established last year, the girls came out and quickly kicked things into high gear. They powered through their set at a dizzying pace, rarely stopping even for an applause break. Stage banter was virtually nonexistent, except to thank the other bands on the bill and the crowd for coming. As for the songs themselves, they were decent. The Like performed them with pluck and aplomb and were mostly engaging in their delivery. There was nothing revolutionary or immensely exciting about how it all went down, but then again neither are their songs. It’s the sort of music you’d expect from these girls, and it’s also good enough to make you wonder why this band isn’t more popular. There’s a catchiness and general enjoyment to the songs, and I honestly believe that’s worth a lot. Most of the songs they played were new ones from their upcoming “Release Me”, and they had a solid 60’s girl group vibe to them. I’ve yet to hear the new record, but based on the live versions of the songs, it has potential. So does The Like’s live show. They may not have blown me away with their set, but I’m confident that as they continue to make new music and do plenty of touring, things will continue to improve. Best of luck, ladies.

Buy The Like’s “Release Me” from Amazon

To the strains of Cheap Trick’s “Hello There”, which prominently features the line “Are you ready to rock?”, The Futureheads emerged on stage prepared to do just that. Whether they’ve been using the song all tour or it was specifically chosen for Cheap Trick’s hometown, it made for an amusing start to what would be a show filled with fun little moments just like that one. “Hello, we are The Futureheads. Prepare to meet your doom,” said frontman Barry Hyde as the band launched furiously into the title track of their new album “The Chaos”. The song itself is much like a time bomb, filled with raw energy and featuring the countdown of “5,4,3,2,1”. As suddenly as it had started, less than 2 minutes later, the music abruptly stopped, and the band did too – frozen like statues in place while the crowd cheered up a storm. After a good few seconds of this, the band ripped through the chorus one last time. If that’s not the absolute right way to start a show, I don’t know what is. “Thank you very much, Chicago. This is the very last stop on our U.S. tour, and I want it to get messy in here tonight. I want you all to go to the bar, grab a bottle of vodka, pour it on yourself, and then set yourself on fire,” Hyde quipped. “That’s the spirit!” guitarist Ross Millard chimed in with the pun. And so it went, clear that not only would The Futureheads rip through their four album catalogue, but they’d do so in the most entertaining way possible. See, unlike so many touring bands today, The Futureheads have the oft-coveted characteristic known as stage charisma, and they’ve got it coming out their arses.

Of course the show wasn’t all about witty banter, even though it did include some great commentaries on the USA vs. England World Cup match earlier in the day (“our goaltender must have had olive oil on his gloves or something”) and Chicago (“I love the architecture here. You’ve got a lot of things that spiral, and that’s fantastic. I especially love your carparks [parking garages]. Chicago has the best carparks in the world.”). No, speaking specifically for the music, The Futureheads delivered a performance that was directly relational in energy to that of their songs. Fast, fun, upbeat, and markedly faithful to the original recordings. That is to say, the tempo and vocal harmonies weren’t off in the least, and that just made for a better show. The music itself kind of pushes you in that direction initially anyways, but the band and their great, loose energy drove it home. They also covered every necessary song in their entire catalogue thus far, and smartly pulling much of the material from their first album and their most recent one. Particularly great were renditions of “Meantime”, “Decent Days and Nights” and “First Day”, all of which held up to the lofty standards they presented on record initially. The new songs fared quite well too, in particular “Heartbeat Song”, “Struck Dumb” and “Jupiter” – though my favorite of the new stuff probably came with “The Connector”. In addition to that, crowd participation was heartily encouraged, whether it was clapping along with the beat, doing the “bouncy dance” (jumping up and down mindlessly), or splitting the room in half for a sing-along game to “Hounds of Love” that saw The Like and The Static Jacks returning to the stage to help out. More often than not, those “this side sings one part, and the other side sings another part” games are foolish ploys that never work out as well as you might hope. While the crowd-infused version of “Hounds of Love” wasn’t exactly perfect, it worked about as well as it could be expected to.

After powering through a 16-song set, The Futureheads said goodnight, but then naturally said they’d be back in a minute for an encore. True to their word, they weren’t gone for more than 60 seconds, and when they came back, they played the very first song they ever wrote, “Le Garage”. From the sound of things, the band only intended on playing a 2-3 song encore. What wound up actually happening was a different story. The venue might only have been 3/4ths full, but what crowd was there only wanted more. Given that it was the last night of their U.S. tour, the band looked like they didn’t want to leave the stage either, so they played a couple more beyond what they had originally planned for. It got to the point where they claimed they’d never done a 5-song encore before, but something that night coaxed them into it. They may have played 21 songs total, but given the speed at which they ripped through them, only about 90 minutes had passed and most of us were having the time of our lives. Still, all good things must come to an end, and after powering through “Man Ray”, The Futureheads called it a night once and for all.

At the beginning of this now lengthy piece, I talked a little bit about great surprises. The ones that sneak up on you when you least expect them and knock your socks off in a great way. The Futureheads’ live show was one of those moments for me, not just a stand-out highlight of my concergoing year thus far, but perhaps the most dynamic and fun time I’ve had at a show in a few years. This coming from a band that I had a moderate liking for going in and felt that if they just did their harmonies right that’d be good enough. Instead they went very far above and beyond any expectations I could have had and earned a spot among my favorite live acts. Their U.S. tour may be over, but if you’re from Europe and you’ve not yet seen The Futureheads, make sure to check and see if they’re coming to your city sometime soon. At the end of their set, Ross told the crowd that it was their first show in Chicago in four years. He also said they’d be back sooner than that next time. I certainly hope that’s true, because I’m now eagerly looking forward to the next time The Futureheads come to town.

The Futureheads – Struck Dumb
The Futureheads – Skip to the End

Buy The Futureheads’ “The Chaos” from Amazon

Set List:
The Chaos
Walking Backwards
Heartbeat Song
Struck Dumb
Decent Days and Nights
I Can Do That
First Day
Skip to the End
Back to the Sea
Sun Goes Down
The Beginning of the Twist
Carnival Kids
Hounds of Love
Le Garage
The Connector
Work Is Never Done
Stupid and Shallow
Man Ray