When I saw the lineup for this year’s Dunn Dunn Fest, I was most excited about Saturday night’s show at Subterannean. I’ve been a fan of Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes since I first heard them a couple years ago, and I’ve seen them a couple times already so I know they’re great live. I picked up a used copy of Santah’s record White Noise Bed at Reckless a few months ago, and I’ve dug everything I’ve heard by them since I moved to Chicago about 4 years ago. The wild card was the headliner, Moon Taxi. I listened to their record after seeing the announcement, and their placement at the top of the bill made sense. They were just on Conan last month, Letterman in the fall, and now they were playing a little club in Chicago-it doesn’t get any better than that.
When I got to SubT at 9, I expected to be able to walk right in. The doors opened at 8:30 so the die-hards could get in and the line would be minimal. Not the case at all. I ended up at the end of the block behind about 70 or so people. Happy to see the turnout, but not so pleased that it was so cold outside. I talked to a couple guys from South Africa who had bought 8 tickets for the show and were still looking for 2 more. They weren’t having much luck and I have no idea if they found anyone willing to give up their ticket-even though they were offering triple face value. The guys in front of me were practically jumping up and down with excitement while telling everyone around us how great Moon Taxi is. You don’t see anticipation like that every day, so my own hopes for the show grew even higher.
By the time I got inside Santah was already halfway through their set and I had to fight my way forward to get a decent spot to take pictures. I ended up all the way to the left in a corner I would soon find myself stuck in for the duration of the night as fans kept pouring in to the venue. The music was good-a blend of galloping rock and folk/pop that accompanied a large mass of people drinking heavily. It wasn’t the dance-y type of tunes we’d get later on, but it was well worth showing up early.
Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes set up their gear rather quickly, and I was really pleased with the warm reception they received. Some of that may have been because so much of the crowd seemed to have Nashville ties, but by the end it was all about the songs. I just reviewed their new album Kid Tiger last week (out March 4th), and it completely delivers on the promise of Civilized Man. It had been about six months or so since the last time I caught them live, and they seemed tighter than I remembered, even playing the brand new songs they haven’t had as much time with.
Ellsworth was clearly having a blast with the opportunity to introduce some new songs. Timon Lance, so unassuming in casual talks, ripped and roared through the whole set while Joel Wren and Marshall Skinner kept the groove bouncy and light so the crowd could keep their feet moving. They played my favorite song off Kid Tiger, apparently it’s the first time they’ve played it live.
Once The Great Lakes left the stage and Trevor Terndrup made an appearance, the buzz in the audience grew to a constant drone of noise. The guy in front of me not once but twice started a chant of “MOON TAXI! MOON TAXI! MOON TAXI!” The band set and after about ten minutes the band descended the spiral staircase together and launched into their raucous set with gusto. Their lighting setup was completely different than anything I’ve seen at SubT before. I’ve been there a ton of times and I was blown away by how good everything looked.
I was least familiar with them, but I felt like a couple songs into Moon Taxi’s set I had a pretty good idea of what they were about. Definitely a band that wants to have as much fun as the crowd, and seems damn determined to make sure everyone is having a good time. Trevor connects well with individuals in the audience, making lots of eye contact. At one point a girl was dancing at the very end of the stage, and he tried to make his way over to her to get down (she wasn’t paying attention and stopped when he was just short-only to be told by her friend that he was right behind her).
The guitar is definitely the main focus of the music, and between Terndrup and Spencer Thompson they have that instrument pretty well covered. They both played some great riffs, but Terndrup was the center of attention, jumping up on his gearbox to bask in the strobe lights more than a couple times.
By the end of the their set it seemed like all 400 people that packed into SubT were dancing and screaming within a 12 foot radius near the front of the stage. The band finished their final song, but the relentless fans wouldn’t let them leave. I made my way upstairs while Moon Taxi blasted into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall.” My body was exhausted from the constant motion through three sets of music, but I felt great about the physical punishment a good night of music can dole out.
Many thanks to Donnie Biggins, who set up the Dunn Dunn Fest through Harmonica Dunn. The talent he assembled to play at four different venues over three nights was stellar, and I don’t know if anyone else in Chicago could pull it off single-handedly. This was the only show I was able to make it out for, and I can only imagine how awesome all the other events were.