I spent the better part of the past month hyping up this show that finally happened last night at Subterranean. For those who took my exuberant yammerings as gospel, you’re welcome. You got to see one of the best shows you’ll see all year. For those that didn’t…well, better luck next time I guess. I hope you enjoyed the Green Music Festival or whatever other complete waste of time you were busy with (this does not apply to those of you who attended Ezra Furman’s house show-totally understandable). It wasn’t just that Sons Of An Illustrious Father were playing in a real Chicago venue for the first time, but they hand-picked the lineup for our listening pleasure. They brought along Brooklyn songstress Lexie Roth and added two Chicago acts called Names Divine and Lionel O.
Names Divine played first, and I’m still not sure quite what to make of it. They feature three men and three women who seem to be playing a kind of organized chaos on stage. The man in the middle played violin and sang, but often he was just dancing and grooving out to the music. There was a girl on one side who only sang, and another on the opposite side that played electric guitar and sang. I’d call her the de facto leader of the band, and during the last song of their set she wailed on that axe like nobody’s business. Definitely an interesting group and something to keep your eye on.
The big surprise of the night for me was Lexie Roth. I’d only heard about her through Sons, and I listened to one song on Spotify just to see what kind of music it was. I didn’t really pay attention, but when she was on stage she demanded everyone’s. With just an electric guitar and her voice, she was entirely captivating. In a night of seemingly short sets, hers was the shortest. She played a few songs off her self-titled release that came out last year, including a great one called “Stay Or Go.” For the last couple she asked Lilah and Josh of Sons Of An Illustrious Father to join her. They played very well together, so maybe we were witnessing the formation of a Sons Of An Illustrious Father/Lexie Roth supergroup.
Next up was Lionel O, a Chicago transplant from Minnesota via Ohio. I enjoyed the music quite a bit. It often felt like Iron & Wine mixed with Death Cab, but the instruments backing singer/guitarist Matt Orenstein were an accordion (Julian Chin) and a sousaphone (Matt Davis), so make of that what you will. It sounded really good, and the songwriting and delivery by Orenstein were both top-notch. On his recordings he strikes a balance between the sadness of Elliot Smith and the humor of Jonathan Richman. Definitely worth checking out (find his songs on Spotify, along with Lexie Roth’s)
Finally we came to the main event. It had been just about a year since I last saw Sons Of An Illustrious Father live, and I was excited to see them in a real venue. Unfortunately their drummer had to skip the show due to an injury. The band on stage was a trio made up of Lilah Larson on guitar, vocals and drums, Josh Aubin on keys, vocals, and percussion and opener Lexie Roth on backing vocals and percussion. Despite the change, I lost no faith in their ability to put on a great show, and they delivered in spades.
Their set kicked off with Larson strumming the electric guitar and leading the other two towards the steps to the stage. They came down into the crowd and belted out a song so raw and powerful that if they had gone back to the stage, unplugged their instruments and left I would feel like I got my money’s worth. Sons’ music has a way of getting into your ear canals and finding its way straight into your soul. Much of the power is derived from Larson’s emotional vocal performances, which can turn even the most mundane of tunes into pure electricity.
Just having two members of the band limits the set a little bit, but Lilah and Josh did a great job of switching back and forth on vocals. When Josh would play one of his songs on keys, Lilah would play drums and Lexie would play percussion and sing backup. When Lilah was playing, Lexie would be on drums. They adapted very well to a situation a lot of bands would dread. Most of the material was from their debut self-titled album, but they did play “Glass Nor Stone,” which I think really struck a chord with the crowd. The energy in the room definitely ticked up after the first chorus of that single. It was a fantastic performance, no doubt. But I prefer this softer, sweeter number from their first album:
I was impressed with the harmonies between Larson and Roth as well. They did a duet during the earlier set, and they had multiple opportunities during the headlining set to sing together. It almost makes you forget about Sofia Ablam; or maybe Larson’s voice just makes anyone that sings along with her sound better. Someday I hope we can get a full band show, or at least a trio of people that are actually in the band. They made it work, though, and I’m thankful that they’re touring at all.
I wish more of Chicago had come out to see them play. Sunday’s are kind of rough in this town. Especially when there are free festivals going all day. Maybe I’ll recommend the band come in early December when there’s nothing going on and the promise of free heat and beer for purchase seems like the best offer available. For those that witnessed the performance, it was a thing of beauty and a moment in your lives I hope you never forget. I know I won’t.
For more photos from the show, check out our album on Facebook!