Outside of all the festivals, the live music scene can be a little dead during the hottest months of the year. Things get rough in Chicago especially, thanks to things like Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival and Riot Fest, all of which have radius clauses that prevent artists from playing other shows in town within a certain time period. Yet there’s so much music out there that not every band is on a festival lineup and not every venue is forced to starve for 3-4 months in between spring and fall. You can still find great shows if you look for them, and if some of the venues have air conditioning to keep you out of the heat, so much the better. Thankfully the Empty Bottle had both on Tuesday night, when A Sunny Day in Glasgow came through town.
Opening up the show was Chicago’s own Lightfoils, who were also celebrating the release of their debut album Hierarchy that same day. Prior to their set I had only heard one song of theirs, a gorgeous slice of shoegaze/dream pop called “Diastolic.” That provided a good baseline for their live show, which turned out to be pretty impressive overall. I had failed to realize that three guys from the five piece were part of the great Chicago shoegaze band Airiel, so it makes perfect sense as to why they would be so formidable both live and on record. They sound quite a bit like their old band as well, though singer Jane Zabeth’s strong presence adds a little something extra. She does a fantastic job on vocals, belting out melodies with force, but also toning it down to let the guitars envelop her as needed. When watching any local band perform whose material I’m not familiar with, I always consider two main factors:
1) Are they good enough to tour (inter)nationally, aka would non-Chicagoans love and appreciate them?
2) How passionate is the local fan base?
When applied to Lightfoils, the answers I came up with were 1) Yes, absolutely and 2) The locals like them quite a bit. So it would seem that they’ve got a lot going for them, and with any luck, their new album will only solidify that further.
The day before attending this show, I read a lengthy comment on another site where the author complained about A Sunny Day in Glasgow performance (s)he had attended recently. For whatever reason, the comment didn’t really relate to the post topic and came from out of nowhere. But this person basically said that the band sounded nowhere near as good as they did on record, and complained about the vocals specifically as sounding “very off-key.” Now I’m not one to take an anonymous internet commenter at his or her word, but it did make me slightly wary about what I might be walking into at the Empty Bottle. To start off their set, A Sunny Day in Glasgow immediately launched into “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing),” which is my favorite song of theirs from the new album Sea When Absent. And you know what? They sounded great. Not only on that song, but for the entire show. A fair amount of their recorded output so far has hinged on some very complex shoegaze and dream pop arrangements, which you would think might be difficult to perform live. Thanks to vocal modulators, triggered sound effects and other equipment, it all sounded quite accurate, even if some of the band members had to pull double duty at times to make it happen. Lead vocalist Jen Gorma was particularly energetic and on-key the whole time, and her harmonies with Annie Fredrickson were gorgeous. Most of the set list was generously spread across their entire catalogue dating all the way back to 2006, though understandably the greatest focus was on material from the new album and the couple immediately preceeding it. Highlights included “Nitetime Rainbows,” “Crushin'” and “Golden Waves,” though really the whole thing was a delight.
One of the most fascinating things to me about A Sunny Day in Glasgow in general is how they take a genre of music that specializes in darker and more depressing themes, and flip it completely on its head by infusing it with brightness and positivity. They have the word “sunny” in their name for a reason. The band played with that same sort of attitude, and the crowd soaked it in and directed it right back at them. At times it almost seemed like they were surprised by how much applause and cheering there was after each song. Perhaps some of the other shows so far this tour haven’t gone so well (see above), or maybe they’re starting to reach new heights of popularity and simply aren’t used to it yet. Whatever it is, their reaction was charming and endearing. When they wrapped up their set and said goodnight, the crowd went nuts and spent a couple of strong minutes cheering for an encore. Sadly, the house lights went up and music began playing on the overhead speakers, aka the signal that the band was done. As many entertainers will tell you, it’s always best to go out on a high note, leaving the crowd wanting more. On this particular Tuesday night in Chicago, A Sunny Day in Glasgow did just that.