If you’re currently living in Chicago and know anything about the sport of hockey, chances are you’re celebrating right now. The Chicago Blackhawks claimed the biggest prize in hockey last night, known as the Stanley Cup for those with zero knowledge of the sport. I may not be the biggest hockey fan in the world, but I have been supporting the team pretty solidly the last few years. What happened on Wednesday was nothing short of amazing, and I do want to wish all my fellow fans the best and offer all the players a sharp congratulations. They say you’ll always remember exactly where you were for the important events in your life, and in an odd twist of fate, I happened to be at a sports bar right across the street from the Empty Bottle. The Golden Filter were in town and I was all set to go see them, but considering I had a little time before their set, watching the end of the hockey game at a bar with televisions was simply something I needed to do. So it was with great relief and much high-fiving that I cheered the Hawks on to victory, and then crossed the street and entered a dance party where everyone was having fun and didn’t seem to know or care that this city had just won a major sport championship. Such is the life of your rabid music fan these days.

Anyways, hockey aside, I wandered into the Empty Bottle in a jovial mood and caught the last couple songs by the first opening band, Chicago’s own Brilliant Pebbles. Despite having heard of them and seeing their name on a number of different show listings around town, I had neither witnessed nor heard a single song by the band. Now that I have, I can tell you that on a bill with a band like The Golden Filter, Brilliant Pebbles more than fit in. Their 80’s inspired synth pop is built on fun and exciting melodies, and frontwoman Monika Bukowska has an energy and stage presence that grab and hold your attention. She dances, spins, skips and a number of other things while anchoring down the songs with her strong vocal presence. If the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got rid of their guitars and adopted synths and 80s dance music, they’d be Brilliant Pebbles. Pretty good stuff for the couple songs I saw, even if the crowd was remarkably thin at that point in time.

Sandwiched between the opener Brilliant Pebbles and the headliner The Golden Filter was the New York duo The Hundred In The Hands. The male-female combo released their debut EP on Warp Records last month, and their fuzzy dance anthems earned them a fair amount of praise. Again without having seen or heard a single note of this band’s music, I was not only pleasantly surprised but incredibly impressed as well. Frontwoman Eleanore Everdell handles much of the synths and all the vocals for The Hundred In The Hands, while Jason Friedman provided the basis for many of their melodies via electric guitar and bass. That’s not always apparent on their 6-track EP which features far less guitar, but there’s a fuzziness and shoegazey quality many of the songs take on when performed live that’s positively gripping. There were also hooks abound, making me think that not only is their live show great, but when their full length album is released later this year it could catapult this band into a big spotlight. If you’re not watching out for this band yet, now might be a good time to start.

Buy The Hundred In The Hands’ debut EP “This Desert” from Insound

When it came time for The Golden Filter to take the stage, the now ballooning crowd was more than ready. Dancing shoes were strapped on and there was just enough breathing room for the people close to the stage to bust a move without causing trouble for anyone who wanted to stand still. The thing is, nobody wanted to stand still, and unless you were purposely standing in the back, chances are you were at least tapping your feet. For those who’ve yet to hear The Golden Filter’s debut album “Voluspa”, it’s a cool dance record that bears similarities with artists such as Goldfrapp and Lykke Li in that many of the songs are electro-pop with breathy female vocals. That singer Penelope Trapps just so happens to be a gorgeous blonde has no bearing on those comparisons, there’s really just the sheer sonic similarity. While The Golden Filter tends to bring a dark moodiness to their songs on record, there’s a fresher energy and excitement that brings some added life to the songs when performed live. Tempos are picked up just a little bit, and thanks to some strong percussion work both using live drums and tambourines and cowbells among other things, the crowd really seemed into it. Of course there’s also the requisite clapping along with the beat, which if done right, will turn a good song into a great song live. Starting with the non-album track “Favourite Things” from the “Kitsune Maison Compilation 7”, The Golden Filter won everybody over by naturally listing “Chicago” among said favorite things. Bouncing from that into single “Hide Me” was a way to turn up the heat a little more and get people moving. “Solid Gold” sounded especially great midway through the set, and leading into the 6+ minutes of “Stardust” and the percussion heavy “The Underdogs” made for some amazing pieces of live music. After closing with “Thunderbird”, the band did come back out for one last song, which was a cover of The White Stripes’ classic “The Hardest Button to Button” (available, by the way, as a bonus track on the vinyl version of “Voluspa”). I never realized how easily that song can be manipulated into a dance track before, and The Golden Filter did it justice even without Jack White’s scalding guitar work.

Perhaps I was in such a good mood after that big Stanley Cup win, but I had a really great time watching these three bands perform. They’re all sonically similar as female-fronted electro-pop groups, but each one brought some different and compelling elements to their sets. Brilliant Pebbles has the strength of a wild singer in the form of Monika Bukowska. She really has a strong stage presence, even if there are only 2 dozen people standing around watching her band. Both Eleanore Everdell and Jason Friedman seem equally invested and strong as The Hundred In The Hands. They were the only band that used guitars, and when they did in conjunction with the synth-based melodies, magic happened. I’m going to keep my eyes out for them in the future because they’re absolutely going places. And The Golden Filter’s secret weapon was percussion, because whether it was the booming drum work on “The Underdogs” or the simiplest of clapping, the upping of the tempo during their set made the difference between a good and great performance. Nice work. There aren’t many dates left on the Golden Filter/Hundred In The Hands tour, but should you have the opportunity to see either of those bands separately or together, I’d call it an excellent idea. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some hockey-related bragging to do.

The Golden Filter – Hide Me

(US) Preorder “Voluspa” on vinyl from Insound

Favourite Things
Hide Me
Look Me In The Eye
Dance Around The Fire
Solid Gold
The Underdogs
The Hardest Button to Button (White Stripes cover)