Patti Smith celebrated her 70th birthday by bestowing a packed house at the Riviera Theatre the gift of her music and spoken word.
Along with her band, she began the evening by playing her iconic 1975 album Horses in full. In between songs she joked (“I’m the new president of the United States…just for fucking tonight!”), told stories (“I was nearly born in a taxi cab on Lake Shore Drive. The Great Snowstorm of 1946”), and inspired (“Don’t give up! Rise! Strengthen! Learn! Unite!”).
The Godmother of Punk (although she’s reluctant to embrace the title) put on a performance that can only be described as transcendent. Every single person in the sold-out Riv knew they were witnessing something special. It was church, a rally, a celebration and a show rolled all into one. “The dream is not fucking over! There is room in the world for love and peace,” she declared during her encore (a cover of The Who’s “My Generation”).
The calls to action peppered her performance and left me feeling—in a word—empowered. Her message was a welcome reminder that there is hope, love and beauty in this world. I wish every concert was a Patti Smith concert.
I’ve really come to look forward to the annual WXRT Big Holiday Concert. It’s always a great lineup, a great concert, a great venue, and a great excuse to run into Terri Hemmert and tell her you love her.
This year’s was no different, as Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats headlined with special guest—local legend and natural treasure Mavis Staples. As usual, Mavis, a recent Kennedy Honors recipient, exuded such joy that the grinch would’ve been clapping and singing along with her. It was a stripped down set with the spectacular Rick Holmstrom on guitar as her lone accompanist.
The Night Sweats were the next to hit the stage and they dove into their bluesy soul right away keeping the energy high. The audience was treated to a Mavis encore when she joined Nathaniel and company on stage to sing a beautiful version of “The Weight.” Another notable cover was Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” Rateliff’s solo acoustic version was a lovely tribute to yet another icon we’ve lost in 2016. The crowd stood and danced for the majority of the evening, shimmying and singing along to Ratecliff’s originals. It was a perfect ending to a year filled with incredible shows.
Conor Oberst spent time in Chicago this past weekend for two evenings of intimate performances at Thalia Hall. Joining him Saturday night was singer-songwriter, Anna McClellan.
In Oberst’s words, Anna McClellan is a “secret weapon from Omaha, Nebraska.” The audience was quick to feel her power and be captivated by her haunting voice and playful melodies. She played out heavy repeating chords on the piano while her engaging lyrics and lovely refrain hovered above and took over the room. The room’s energy level rose to a new high when Oberst walked on stage to join McClellan on her song “Fire Flames.” McClellan’s inviting presence kept the crowd quiet and in their seats which is a rare feat for an opening act. Anna McClellan’s current album Fire Flames (which features Oberst on the title track) is available to download.
The crowd was ready for Conor Oberst before he even entered the stage. Within the first notes of his opening song people were already cheering and singing along. Arms went up during favorite lyrics and friends turned to each other to mouth the words during quiet parts. It was a warm welcome. The stage was sparse with only a single bassist to accompany him. Oberst alternated between an old upright piano and his guitar. An assistant sat at a fishbowl shaking out harmonicas in-between songs to pass off to Oberst.
I have to confess that I went to this show to see one band only—The Lemon Twigs. Simply put, I dig them.
I dig their sound, their look, their youth, their theatricality, their confidence. I dig that they’re brothers and both multi-instrumentalists. And now, I can say with certainty that I also dig them live. This is not a band to sleep on. From the second I was introduced to them earlier this year, I’ve been intrigued—excited even. And after their performance at Lincoln Hall last Friday, I’m now officially mesmerized. If you like David Bowie, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Queen then you’re sure-as-shit gonna like this band.
Of course, the bonus of attending a show for one band is that you get to see other bands as well, and in this case, other bands who deserve some attention. Illinois native Joe Bordenaro and the Late Bloomers opened the evening with a high energy, garage rock set that perfectly set the tone for the night. Headliners Sunflower Bean brought their indie rock (heavy on the rock) to the stage. I immediately heard some nostalgia in their sound, like I was at a loft party in Chelsea in the ’70s. Most impressive was their ability to evoke such nostalgia given that the trio isn’t even of legal drinking age.
I highly encourage you to check out these young, talented bands as there are still plenty of tour dates ahead.
The ethereal Sigur Rós brought their extraordinary and unique music to the historic Chicago Theatre last Friday, marking it as one of the most memorable Fridays of the year.
Their music is other-worldly, blanketed in mystique, and I can confirm that their performances are just as artful as their songs. The lighting is dramatic, moody, and beautiful—the stage clouded in fog as Jónsi’s perfect falsetto soared, his right arm furiously moving his signature cello bow across his guitar strings, the drum beats synced to the lights mimicking lightning.
It’s was a stunning sight to behold, let alone hear. Throughout their two sets (both about an hour each) they played a healthy mix of their catalogue but relied heavily on songs from my personal favorite Sigur Rós album, ( ). Their show, like their albums, seemed to build and build climaxing into the most epic moments. There’s not another band like Sigur Rós.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | Angel Olsen was welcomed to Chicago with two sold out nights at Thalia Hall this week. Joining her was bilingual crooner Rodrigo Amarante.
Brazilian singer-songwriter (perhaps best known for the theme song for Netflix’s Narcos), Rodrigo Amarante set the scene for the night holding down the stage with just his guitar and sweet vocals. Between songs he told the audience, “I had the best day. They treated me like a king here even though I’m just a pawn. I’m so happy.” You could feel his happiness as he whistled along with his tunes. As Amarante sang, he and his guitar filled the room with the impression of a full orchestra playing.
Amarante’s first solo album, Cavalo is currently available on vinyl. His sophomore release is anticipated some time this year.
A full house waited in anticipation gathering closer and closer to the stage as Angel Olsen’s set time was approaching. Soon her band entered the stage in uniformed suits topped off with bolo ties. A few moments later Olsen appeared on stage and everyone went silent as she put on her guitar. “Oh you’re quiet now…that’s cool,” she told the crowd who quickly began cheering, “Yeah right!” she exclaimed before playing the notes of her first song “Never Be Mine.”
2:42pm: As I’m running to catch the Juliette Lewis and the Licks, I hear Dee Snider covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” in the distance. I arrive Riot Fest’s Rock Stage and turn my attention to Juliette Lewis, who is absolutely commanding the stage. She twirls, jumps, dives, screeches.
3:00pm: The party has officially started. Andrew W.K. has arrived, muscles bulging out of his signature white t-shirt and white jeans. He stuffs his microphone into his pants and slams down on his keyboard, jazz notes ringing out. His fans are screaming so hard the noise is almost deafening. Party on.
3:08pm: Juliette Lewis can sing. I wander back over to the Rock Stage to catch her covering—and nailing—Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Before her final song she pauses, “I feel like music is a spiritual thing and I want to thank you for being here.” She ends her set with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”—her version sounding like Tina turner on steroids.
2:31pm Walking in my wife accidentally says “Yay girl!” to a guy and he asks for her number. She’s off to a great start here at Riot Fest.
2:50pm: Young talent alert! Denzel Curry impresses the hell out of everyone by freestyling two songs a capella due to technical issues. He continues to impress once the issues have been fixed, and takes any opportunity to jump off the stage to connect with the crowd.
3:35pm: The Hold Steady is playing Boys and Girls in America in full at the Rock Stage and everyone is losing their minds. Even us photographers are singing along and smiling while trying to capture the moment.
4:09pm: I catch end of Motion City Soundtrack’s set, one of their last ever as they’ve announced their breakup, and it’s a pretty amazing scene. The crowd surfing is some of the best I’ve seen so far and once the set ends, the band tosses their picks, drumsticks, set lists, and more out to their fans, many of whom are in tears.
12:52pm: Diarrhea Planet is the perfect Riot Fest welcome. They’re rock, they’re punk, and they’re fun as hell.
1:11pm: I spot my first mohawk of the weekend. It’s tall, purple, and glorious.
1:14pm: There’s a small but diehard crowd for Fu Manchu to start, but by the end of their set the crowd has grown, perhaps as mesmerized by the impressive head-banging as I am.
1:30pm: A little rain, but nothing compared to past years.
1:41pm: A dude selling cheap-ass ponchos for $5 is making bank right now. Mine is less for the rain and more for GWAR’s upcoming set.
Mother Nature ordered up the most perfect Sunday night that we’ve seen all summer. Perhaps she knew what was going down at Millennium Park.
“We’re home,” Jeff Tweedy confirmed to the crowd as Wilco took the stage to play their first show in their hometown since 2014. Also home? Openers and up-and-comers Twin Peaks (a band, I might add, who is not to be missed live).
This celebration of Chicago bands lasted 3.5 hours. “Play all night,” a fan next to me thought aloud—a sentiment that I, and many others, shared with him. It was a perfect night and a perfect setting to sink into the music and appreciate all that Chicago has to offer. Wilco, we love you baby.