Fall is the best time of year for several reasons. It could be the weather, still relatively warm with a slight chill in the air. It could be the leaves changing, a beautiful reminder that we need to prepare for the harsh winter ahead. There’s also plenty of seasonal foods to enjoy, from pumpkin-flavored treats to freshly picked apples, particularly of the honey crisp variety. But set all those lovely things aside for a moment because fall is also fantastic for its concerts. So many bands are out on tour, freed from the glut of summer music festivals which have massive bills and radius clauses keeping some out of town through much of August and September. And while going to a summer festival where 100+ artists are performing can be a great way to discover new music, going to see a smaller show with just a couple artists on the bill can give you a much more impactful and perhaps surprising experience. You’re paying to see a headliner, but showing up early reaps plenty of rewards in and of itself. Case in point, this past Friday in which I dropped by Lincoln Hall for a headlining show from Cymbals Eat Guitars. Their first two records “Why There Are Mountains” and “Lenses Alien” struck a chord with tastemakers, and the band has been on the rise ever since. On their current fall tour they’re being supported by the band Hooray for Earth, whose debut full length “True Loves” turned many a head this past summer, even as it wound up a little lost in the shuffle of other, bigger releases.
On what was a crisp October evening, the show had an uncharacteristically late start time of 10pm. It makes sense in that none of the 3 bands performing had enough material for a full 90 minute set, but there was no real reason why things couldn’t have kicked off at a more normal 9pm and ended at midnight instead of 1am. Does it make that much of a difference in the end? Not really – once you’re out for the night, there’s not much difference between midnight and 1am. Plus it gives people more of their earlier evening free to do things like drink more before the show and then try to start a mosh pit during Cymbals Eat Guitars. More on that in a minute, but right now I want to give a quick shout out to Chicago’s own Bailiff, who was the first band on the bill Friday night. This was a one-off show for them as they’re not part of the tour, but those that know Chicago’s local music scene were smart enough to arrive on time for their set. While I like what I’ve heard on record from Bailiff, I had never seen them live before, and due to some small travel delays I only had the chance to see the last 10 minutes of their 25 minute set. Those 10 minutes were enough to impress me though, and I can’t help but think that those guys are well on their way to becoming a band that earns worldwide attention. The “it” factor is clearly there, and I’m absolutely looking forward to hearing and seeing much more from them in the next couple years.
A fairly sizable crowd had arrived at Lincoln Hall by the time Hooray for Earth took the stage, and most of them had never heard the band before. I know that because people kept asking me who the band was. That’s great news though, because it means they were intrigued by what they heard and saw. It’s the opening sets where everyone passively watches or talks the whole time that are bad signs. A couple drunk girls asked me if it was Yeasayer on stage. They clearly didn’t know their Yeasayer either, but at least they were in the ball park sonically. One of the great qualities about Hooray for Earth is how they’re able to marry psychedelic and pop sounds with electronica and dance elements, which at this show resulted in an unorthodox dance party. The guys in Hooray for Earth weren’t so much taken aback by the dancing, but they did seem just a touch surprised to see a number of people getting their groove on. It’s relatively challenging to get cross-armed indie kids to dance, so that was just one of the small victories Hooray for Earth could claim during their set. Another was some charming stage banter, highlighted by the mid-set pause in which frontman Noel Heroux called a friend to wish him a happy birthday. Really the music itself did all the talking that was needed though, and in their 45 minute set the band powered through much of their record. Naturally it was the title track off their new album “True Loves” that got the biggest crowd response, aided by the fact that it’s a highly addictive and fun single that has gotten some radio airplay by a few forward-thinking stations. Their live rendition of “Black Trees” was blisteringly cool as well, aided in no small part by the swirling, psychedelic video projections that washed over the band. Hooray for Earth likely made a bunch of new friends thanks to their reliable and enjoyable set. I think they can do even better though, and hopefully bring a little more on stage energy to their songs in the future. As they do more touring and write new material, that should all evolve naturally. Hooray for Earth remains a band to watch, and if we’re lucky, the next time they come through town they’ll be the ones headlining.
It’s been a tough couple years for Cymbals Eat Guitars. Relentless touring around their debut record “Why There Are Mountains” resulted in two of the band’s four members quitting and frontman Joseph D’Agostino blowing out his voice. Such tragedy also comes with a ray of sunshine though, and in this case the sheer exhaustion pretty much meant the band was leaving it all on the stage each and every night. Now with a revamped lineup and a vocal tune-up for D’Agostino, Cymbals Eat Guitars unleashed their sophmore effort “Lenses Alien” to more critical acclaim, effectively proving their debut was not a fluke and they could not only sustain but evolve as well. The small tragedy on Friday night was that more people didn’t make it out to the show. Lincoln Hall wasn’t sold out by any measure, but those that did come were largely die hard fans. The ones that weren’t die hard fans upon arriving hopefully left with a sharply increased appreciation for these guys. They started their set with the bouncy “Indiana”, which had at least a few people jumping up and down right away, though things wouldn’t really escalate until about the final 30 minutes of the show. It was somewhere right around “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” that things reached an apex they could not top. The track itself is 8.5 minutes long on record, and on stage the band drew it out and enhanced it even more than I ever thought possible. The tension built up over the course of the song was held for as long as possible before the quiet exploded into a wall of sound and D’Agostino’s visceral scream. It has been awhile since a live rendition of a song has given me goosebumps like that. To their credit they also bled “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” into “Keep Me Waiting” effortlessly, the whole thing seeking to provide the auditory definition of the word “epic”. The seamless combination of songs would happen a couple more times in the second half of the set, and the noisier and more experimental the band got, the more energized the crowd got. That is to say a bunch of guys near the front felt it would be a great idea to start a mosh pit. As they bounced into one another more and more, those of us not looking to potentially get hurt backed away and gave them some space. THankfully things never got overzealous or violent, and respect was maintained not only between sectors of the crowd but towards the band on stage as well.
For me, the only disappointing thing about CEG’s set was an apparent lack of applause/cheering by the crowd once they finished their set. Perhaps my perception was off and the crowd was smaller than I thought, but I just assumed it would be a louder response for an encore than what was given. Almost as if they resigned to do an encore because they were headlining and less because it was demanded of them, the band came back out after a very brief moment backstage to play one more song. It was a nice cap on the evening, though it probably wasn’t necessary. They played for an hour, hit all the songs I had wanted them to and slayed them all, and while I was cheering for the band when it was all over, I was also satisfied to the point where I didn’t need any more. If the crowd isn’t going to give you the sort of response that warrants an encore, my opinion is don’t do one. Again, maybe I just had a disconnection between crowd size and the loudness of said crowd and everyone was begging for an encore. It’s also very possible my hearing was a bit off after such a loud and punshing set. Ultimately my stance is this: for the talented bands involved, this show should have been close to sold out – especially for a Friday night. That it wasn’t is the biggest disappointment of them all. Bands like Cymbals Eat Guitars and Hooray for Earth are the type worth listening to and investing in because they push creative boundaries within their respective genres. If you can’t be bothered to go and see them, they can’t be bothered to make more music. Please take that into account the next time either of them rolls through Chicago or whatever city you live in.