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.
There’s something special about concerts at Wrigley Field. The bands and the fans always seem extra juiced. There’s a little extra sweat left on the stage and a few more tears shed throughout the ballpark. And one thing is for sure—no one ever wants the show to end in the Friendly Confines.
Multiply all of this by 10 and you have Pearl Jam’s sold out Wrigley shows (“Let’s play two!”) on August 20th and 22nd—their first shows back in Chicago since their epic 2013 run at, you guessed it—Wrigley Field. This is not by mistake. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder is a diehard Cubs fan (I mean, he even wrote a song about it!) and when he hits the stage (in his Murphy’s Bleachers shirt) in that sacred and historic stadium, he hits it hard.
It was clear from the start that Seattle’s finest were not messing around. The setlists from each night consisted of the stuff PJ dreams are made of—including a slew of phenomenal covers (my personal favorite being Pink Floyd’s “Confortably Numb”). There were guest appearances—former Bull, Dennis Rodman on the 22nd and all-around incredible human being, former safety for the New Orleans Saints, Steve Gleason on the 20th. (Side note: do yourself a favor and see his documentary Gleason, about his battle with ALS. It’s tremendous.)
If there is not a special place in your heart for Dolly Parton, then I’m not sure you’re a living, breathing human.
No offense—perhaps you haven’t been stopped in your tracks by her distinctive voice or listened to her lyrical stories. Maybe you haven’t repeatedly watched Nine to Five or Steel Magnolias or Straight Talk. It’s possible that you haven’t heard her giggle or read an interview, noting her quick wit, humility, and messages of love and acceptance. Maybe you just don’t know enough about her. And that’s cool. But, for real—you’re missing out.
I’ll tell you who didn’t miss out though—the thousands of us in attendance at her sold-out show at Ravinia Festival, her first show there since 1993. Passing through the north shore of Chicago to celebrate her 43rd (yes, 43rd!) album, Pure and Simple, Dolly dazzled, danced, sang, shared, and strummed her way through her two-hour set. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen Ravinia and a blanket of Dolly generated euphoria enveloped the audience. At 70 she’s not showing one sign of slowing down. And that’s great news for all of us. If Dolly’s making her way to a town near you, I recommend grabbing a ticket.