One thing I’ve noticed over the past few trips to Schubas is the sheer number of people taking pictures. Normally it’s a mixed bag of people with nice cameras and people using their cell phones to capture the evening. IPhones are terrible because the newer one use flash all the time. Worse than that are the folks with really nice cameras who still insist on using flash. If you’re a follower of my twitter feed, you’ll often see me referring to these individuals as “pricks” or “jerks.” I never let it get in the way of my enjoyment of a show, though. Last night at Schubas there were more photogs than I’ve ever seen at a show. The entire front row of people were shooting snapshots, most of them with fancy Nikon’s or Canon’s, which leads me to beileve that Republic of Lights has struck a chord with Chicago tastemakers.
And it’s not without reason. I spent this last week listening to all the stuff I planned on reviewing next week, and also checking out Republic of Lights album Go Rococo a few times. I’ve listened to it a good amount over the last month, but this was a necessary refresher. My feelings on the album haven’t changed: It’s a decent album, but nothing in comparison to their live show. The energy doesn’t flow, and while the music and vocals are all a bit clearer on the album, I prefer the rougher, raw feeling of the show.
Now, I use the word “show” very deliberately here. If Republic of Lights does any one thing better than everyone else, it’s perform. And the performer to watch is lead singer Alan Snider, who flails and bounces and screams with the wreckless abandon of a frat boy at his fourth Dave Matthews concert in a row. Everyone else in the band has to watch out for Snider’s antics. At one point he pulled a Pete Townshend-like windmill with the mic and punched the bassist in the face. Later he almost tipped over on the drum set.
Somehow none of this gets in the way of the music’s quality. Just like when I saw them at Lincoln Hall in May, Republic of Lights delivers a great experience that elevates their indie-influenced pop/rock to an art form. Other than Snider’s crazy frontman ways, the rest of the band plays it pretty low-key. Rosie Schubert rocks the guitar, accordion, violin, and backing vocals all with equal aplomb. I always feel bad for the guys who have to sit in the back, but the guy stroking the keys all night was laying down some smooth sounds and the guitar player and bassist on the side of the stage opposite Rose were nailing every note with sniper-like precision (I apologize for not knowing who is who, but their names are Brian, Jamie, Brian and Greg).
If I had to find something to really complain about, it would be first that Snider’s vocals were turned down WAY too low. Most of the time I couldn’t hear any of the words clearly. This may have also had to do with the fact that one song in his mic cable got disconnected, and he struggled with keeping it together the entire show. My second complaint would be that where I ended up standing for the show turned out to be the worst place to record a song. It was the song “22 Cent Stamp,” and all you can hear is drums in the video, which I will not subject you to (though it looks pretty good).
They ended the show, wisely, with my favorite track off of Go Rococo, “Got You Surrounded.” It’s the only song that captures the energy of the band in a real way. I really think for just pure live music, Republic of Lights is one of the best bands in Chicago right now. There’s no fucking around with them. Almost no breaks between songs, not even for audience applause. It’s actually kind of funny because they’ll be playing and then you’ll see Rosie running to switch instruments and be ready to start the next song.
I hope all the other bloggers/journalists/picture takers at the show enjoyed it as much as I did. The two shows I’ve seen the band perform have been two of the live highlights for me this year. If you don’t make it to their next show you probably will miss out on being able to say that you “saw them before they were a big thing.” If my gut is right on this one, they’ll be reaching that next step by the end of the year (and they deserve it).