WORDS AND PHOTOS: JEREMY LAWSON | Upon arriving at Thalia Hall in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, I was greeted by the Secret Sisters. I was pretty bummed to have missed their entire set. They were just wrapping up an acoustic encore when I looked up to see the enormous ceilings of this amazing venue. I had never been to Thalia Hall and I picked the perfect show to experience the concert hall. The Secret Sisters left the stage and the crowd was ready for what was to come, a knee slapping, banjo picking, good old folk show.
Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage and I had no idea what was in store for me. The show started off with some of their older material. You could instantly tell that the crowd were long time followers of the band. Everyone was singing along and most of them were dancing—dancing alone, dancing with their partners, and dancing with strangers.
The energy was electric and the stage was set for a Pilsen dance party. At one point I was in the balcony and when I looked down nearly half of the crowd was swing dancing. Not your traditional swing dance but mostly swinging each other around with Old Style in hand. People were laughing, yelling and having a good ole time. This was my third time seeing the band and each time the party has gotten crazier.
3:07pm: Last day of Pitchfork ’16! Before I head towards the music, I decide check out the House of Vans area. There is only one House of Vans in the U.S. (Brooklyn) but that’s soon to change because one is being built here in Chicago. I’m psyched. All weekend the HoV area was allowing festival goers to build their own working vinyl turntable from scratch…FREE. Super cool.
3:37pm: Kamasi Washington is a whiz on the tenor sax—perhaps even more of an arrangement whiz. I have been listening to more and more of his music in recent months so his set was a must-see for me. He’s not disappointing, nor is his band, the West Coast Get Down. He is the present—and future—of jazz. It’s just an amazing, multilayered wall of sound hitting the audience.
3:47pm: Holy hell it’s hot today. But the sweat is worth it because Kamasi’s father, Rickey Washington, joins the band for “Cherokee.” He delivers a killer sax solo.
2:27pm: I enter Pitchfork and immediately overhear one woman exclaiming to another, “Oh my God! I have that same leotard!” Of course.
2:35pm: Kevin Morby opens with some slow burners, including the title track of his first solo album, 2013’s Harlem River. The sun is shining and crowd is into it.
2:49pm: Morby’s set picks up during “Destroyer” from his most recent album release (this year’s Singing Saw). Whitney’s Will Miller adds horns to the mix and some female singers accompany the band. The crowd is swaying. If this is any indication of what’s to come, it’s gonna be a great day.
3:24pm: I’ve arrived at Pitchfork! And apparently so have the guys from Twin Peaks, who are standing in line in for a beer in the VIP area. This year, they collaborated with local brewers Goose Island to create their own beer, Natural Villain, specifically for the fest.
3:42pm: The wait to get into the fest is considerable, as people are lined up around the block anxious to get in. However, they’re able to hear Car Seat Headrest officially kick off the weekend from the Red Stage. What started off as a solo project for Will Toledo has now turned into a 4-piece band. And while young, there is a buzz about them. They sound good (I particularly like lead guitarist Ethan Ives), but I think there’s still room for them to develop more of a stage presence.
3:54pm: Here comes the rain. It’s a very light, steady shower. Nothing like I’ve seen in past years, so I’ll take it.
Twenty-one years to the date of the Grateful Dead’s final show at Soldier Field in Chicago, Dead & Company—the latest incarnation of the band—took the stage at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
Spirits were high, as they always are among Deadheads. “Isn’t it great to have the family back together?” one weathered fan screamed as hundreds cheered in agreement. Jerry Garcia might be gone, but his spirit and the spirit of The Dead’s music lives on 51 years later. It’s arguably the most communal band of all time. And the music never stops.
This particular spinoff group consists of three original Grateful Dead members—Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann—as well as longtime collaborators Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge, and new addition John Mayer. I’ll admit it—when I first learned that John Mayer would be joining original members of The Grateful Dead for a tour, I was skeptical. Many fans were. But it didn’t take long into their first set for me to realize that Mayer is the real deal and an incredible fit for the band. His guitar solos are simply dazzling, and not only pay reverence to the late, great Garcia but also maintain their own individual brilliance. I was truly impressed.
Millennium Park kicked off their phenomenal (and FREE!) summer music series Monday night with two absolutely stellar bands—NYC’s Blonde Redhead and Chicago’s own Ryley Walker.
It was truly one of those perfect summer nights in downtown Chicago—the breeze was heavy with floral scents wafting over from the Lurie Gardens and the sunset interacting with the skyline seemed to melt the stress of the day away. Adding to the vibes was, of course, the music.
Ryley Walker, backed by a full band, was first up on the stage. I got turned on to his album, Primrose Green, last year and haven’t looked back. Part-Nick Drake-y, part-jam band-y, and part guitar wizardry, his music is right up my alley. Next up was Blonde Redhead, staples of the alternative scene since the early ’90s. The trio quickly proved that they’ve not slowed down through the years, but instead have continued to explore, experiment and entertain.
Two west coast bands, California’s Rogue Wave and Seattle’s Hey Marseilles, played Chicago’s Thalia Hall this past Thursday—an intimate and vibrant show that turned into a celebration of the city finally getting some summer weather.
When I walked in the venue I was overtaken by the immense sound of Hey Marseilles. I had to take a moment to count all the people and instruments that filled the stage. There were five band members but multiple strings, guitars, and keys waiting to be played. The audience kept close to the stage and couldn’t help but move to the music. I watched two friends high-five to the beat during clap-alongs, just to not disturb the drink in their other hand. Everyone wanted to be a part of the band’s energy. They ended their set with popular songs, “Eyes on You” and “West Coast” off their latest album. Hey Marseilles’ self-titled album released earlier this year is now available on vinyl.
After being away from Chicago for three years, Rogue Wave was certainly ready to be back. A few songs in lead singer, Zach Rogue leaned into the mic and asked the crowd, “Wanna have some fun?” The cheers and claps assured him we were. With six albums under their belt, the band was able to play a wide variety of new and old. Fans were delighted as each song started, earning them a dedication, “This is for the fans that have been with us since the beginning” before “Salesman at the Day of the Parade,” a song from their second album.
If I’m being honest my familiarity with The Kills begins and ends with their album, Midnight Boom. I know this is shameful. Since writing this I have become familiar with their catalogue and I now know what I was missing. So, when attending their concert this past Monday at the Riviera Theatre I wasn’t sure what to expect. Their new album won’t be released until next week, but I listened to the singles and watched the new video, yet still felt uncertain–would this be the same band I fell in love with in 2008? I’m happy to say, yes indeed.
Upon entering the theatre I quickly made my way to the front. After seeing Ben Folds here earlier this month and spending the entire show on my tip-toes, I knew if I didn’t arrive early and move fast I might just catch a light show played to a soundtrack of The Kills. Luckily I got within spitting distance from the stage, planted my feet, and stayed there for the rest of the night.
L.A. Witch opened the show creating a great early vibe. I could feel their music run through me and the rest of the crowd felt the same way, swaying to the rhythm. I thought my heart was going to explode as drummer, Ellie English, ferociously banged out each beat. Every measure provided twists and turns aiding the inability to guess where the song would go next. L.A. Witch’s recent EP, “Drive Your Car” is currently available on 7’’ black vinyl.
Hop Along and Speedy Ortiz came through Chicago’s Thalia Hall last Thursday along with Love of Everything.
Bobby Burg (of Joan of Arc, Vacations, and Make Believe) graced his hometown with tunes from his solo project, Love of Everything. With a table of gadgets to provide drumbeats and rhythm along with looping his guitar, Burg, created layers upon layers of sound. The crowd waited in anticipation with every song to watch it all come together. When Burg made the perfect addition with his soft and sweet vocals it seemed to complete the sound in one grand aha moment. Love of Everything’s latest EP, Sooner I Wish, is currently available.
Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz kept the show moving with their sing song melodies backed by the intense grunge sound. A few songs in lead singer, Sadie Dupuis, told the crowd “I forgot to turn my shoes on!” and spent the rest of the night hopping to the music in her glowing sneakers. Dupuis’ vocals purred over heavy guitar riffs, but her lyrics showed her fierceness. Lines like “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss” and “I got too many boyfriends to see you tonight” let it be known she was not be messed with.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | I have seen Ben Folds too many times. I know this because I can see it people’s eyes when I tell them I’ve attended over twenty of Ben Folds’ concerts. Few people have given me a look of approval or expressed signs of jealousy. But in my heart I don’t feel this way. In my heart I know I can never see Mr. Folds enough.
Almost half of my life has been spent seeking out my next Folds concert. I have seen him indoors, outdoors, as Ben Folds Five, with just a piano, with symphonies, and bands. One time it started to rain and he sang a cappella to save his piano from getting wet. I’ve seen him play drums as each piece of the drum set was rapidly brought out to him during his solo. I’ve watched him with ballerinas twirling around him to the magic of his songs. In a gorgeous church he sang the line “I don’t believe in God” as though it was a lovely hymn. One night I saw him at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, the next in a church parking lot in Chicago.
Every one of Ben Folds’ concerts has been special and unique. And that is certainly true for last Friday’s show at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre. This time the something special and unique was yMusic, a classical sextet he’s been on tour with for the past year to promote his latest album, So There.