This was my first time seeing MØ and it was a lot of fun. I’ve listened to her before, but can’t say I’m a die hard fan or anything. I actually went to this show to check out the opener, Tei Shi, who has a record coming out that I really like. She was a fitting warm up for the style of music MØ plays, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy her set.
Despite a long delay at the beginning of the show, and another in between sets, the fans maintained a high level of excitement that exploded into screams when she finally took the stage during the “Don’t Wanna Dance” intro. The performance was non-stop adrenaline, with MØ using every bit of the wide open stage setup, plus some when she came out into the crowd during “Slow Love.” And later she jumped into the masses and let them pass her around the sold out Metro floor like waves carrying her away from shore and then bringing her back.
As a rule I don’t write reviews of shows that I had a hand in putting together. I did take some pictures that I wanted to share, though. I did think the show was amazing for a lot of reasons, first and foremost all the great people that came out to support the show. This was my third time seeing the band in Chicago and it was easily their best crowd. Those that arrived early got a special treat, hanging out with band members before they went on, watching sound check, and having run of Tonic Room for a while.
After the set, which featured a lot of new stuff that everyone seemed to be really into and ended with a cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” everyone was really nice and patient waiting in line to talk to the band and get some merch. I promised them that next time they return to Chicago we’ll sell out Metro, so make sure you’re telling your friends how great the experience was.
It’s been a lot of fun watching Slothrust’s rise over the past couple of years. I’ll never forget being bored at work one day when someone from Ba Da Bing sent me the single “Crockpot” and I immediately took to it. The next day I got them to send me an advance of the record Of Course You Do and they’ve been a part of my life ever since.
Last year I saw them play with Highly Suspect at Bottom Lounge, and I was so happy to hear people singing along with songs I wasn’t sure anyone else knew. And then last night they played to a sold out crowd at Schuba’s in their own headlining slot. They treated their fans to all the “hits” and gave a preview of a couple new songs, one called “Peach” and another whose name I forgot already. They also played their cover of the Britney Spears pop classic “…Baby One More Time” to the delight of all.
Glad I got there early, as fans were already bellying up to the stage thirty minutes before the opening act started. I went off to the side where I knew Leah would be set up so I could catch her shredding some guitar solos. The lighting was a little weird so I didn’t get many shots of her wailing. I was able to catch some random moments of stillness, so I’ll count that as a win. If you want to see some footage from the show, you can check out this short clip.
The director of Slothrust’s latest video, for “Sleep Eater,” was right next to me most of the night, though I didn’t say hello. Here’s his work:
Slothrust continues west on this tour. They’ll be joined by Sons Of An Illustrious Father (who are playing in Chicago TONIGHT at Tonic Room at 9pm!) starting March 15th in Denver. Hit the band’s website for full tour info.
Singer/songwriter Jens Lekman has long had a talent for making the saddest songs seem fun. Whether he’s singing about a broken heart or the failings of man in the world, he can always find a way to make a beat and melody that betrays the torment of the lyrics. He’s also quite clever with his wordplay, so it’s no surprise that his show at Metro in Chicago was a good time.
He’s on the road promoting his latest album Life Will See You Now, but the set wasn’t overrun with fresh songs. He played some old classics that thrilled the audience and kept things moving rather quickly. The only banter for the most part were quick thank you’s and song intros, but he did get a good jab on Trump in at one point. A few songs in he wanted to say a few words about the “tragedy” that happened in Sweden a couple weeks ago. Jens admitted that something big DID in fact happen in Sweden on February 17, 2017…his newest album came out. He then introduced his band and they launched into “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”
Jens was all smiles through the whole show, hitting highlights like “The Opposite Of Hallelujah,” “I Know What Love Isn’t,” and “Black Cab.” The band came out for one encore and then Lens returned solo to play “Pocketful Of Money” with a big crowd singalong to finish the show off. The crowd was still clamoring for more so Jens returned, hoodie in hand, and declined to play stating that the moment the show ended on was too perfect to ruin. However, if fans had any songs that they didn’t hear, he would sing to them at the merch table.
I went to a free show at The Empty Bottle last Monday to see Willis Earl Beal. I’ve been a fan of his work since he blew up in the Chicago scene at the beginning of the decade, but this was my first time seeing him live. There was no talk of doing an interview beforehand, but my friend August Forte, who works in the industry, was able to facilitate and get me some time in the green room after the show through his connections at The Minimal Beat (who put out a limited edition 7″ single of “Flying So Low” b/w “12 Midnight”).
Willis played a whole set of new material, mostly in the dark and always behind a mask. The performance was lively and unnerving, like he had demons that needed exorcising, forcing him to work them out on stage. The audience sat on the floor (a first for me at the Bottle) and hung on every sound. CD’s of the music were for sale afterward, so I bought one and a few minutes later I was downstairs with Willis, August, my friend Sam, and Willis’s sound guy Matt DeWine, who now runs sound at Tonic Room. For a few minutes Leor Galil was there-the writer who first discovered Willis and got his name known around Chicago.
We talked for a while, without recording, about touring in Poland. The biggest show he’s done to date was in France, where he played a set between the xx and Mark Lanegan. It was a fun chat, and then some other people joined us, including Chicago rapper Sharkula. Once we were all settled in I hit record and delved into the psyche of one of the most interesting guys in the music industry.
(Josh): August touched on some good points already. Uh, upstairs while you were performing I was kind of wondering about the creative freedom you have because of where you are as an artist, but also the pressure you’re under to try to make a living doing what you do…
(Willis Earl Beal): Yeah I do feel a lot of pressure.
(Josh): So I wondered how you balance that (group of people walk in and Willis graciously invites them to join us if they’d like)
(WEB): My girlfriend, I guess we could say she’s tolerant of it. She’s had a difficult time with it because she’s come out on several tours with me and she had a hard time dealing with crowd reactions. She enjoyed it, but she simultaneously…I try not to talk about her, but I need her as a form of context. But she just had a really difficult time with that. My career has been kind of a double-edged sword the whole way. It’s not even a career. It started out that way, they tried to get me on some kind of fast track to stardom or whatever, and I was never born to be a star. I’m an anti-star, if anything. I was still figuring things out. I think people are always figuring things out. And the industry, or whatever it is, does not cater to people who are constantly evolving. Especially if you’re evolving in a non-linear, or perceivably non-linear way.
I had a show [in Chicago], and I was still figuring things out. The first time they really enjoyed it, and they invited me back. They paid me six or seven hundred dollars the first time, they paid me the same amount the second time. And it was very similar to the last performance. It was the same, really. Very free flowing, very free consciousness. Then the guy tried to walk out on me, he didn’t wanna pay me. His guys tried to beat me up. And then when I contacted them about this craziness that was happening, they said it was because I had a shitty performance. And I had people come up to me after that show and they all liked the performance. They all thought it was something they related to. So, whatever I’m doing, I don’t know if it’s extraordinary or not extraordinary, it’s very simple.
I started doing this for lack of being able to do it another way. And now I see there are nuances to even the most simple things. So I discovered different nuances of crowd manipulation. Mind control, just, within the context of the situation, not necessarily long term. So I can get people to focus on me for a while. More than just my voice, there are other elements. Pathos. I’m a clown. And that’s what I like people to see. People are interested in pathos. People are interested in failure. People enjoy seeing a personality, it’s voyeuristic, and that’s what I play into. I want to make it seem like I could almost be in a room by myself and you’re looking in.
Certain easily categorizable ways of thinking of things can marginalize my message. I’m not trying to be a soul guy. I wanna be, like, a shaman. It’s not even about the quality of my voice, even though I try to sing really well. I’m trying to channel a universal feeling of isolation. A universal isolation. That’s what I’m channeling in my music. And I think through understanding that isolation and connecting to the universality of it, then we can come together.
I’m affirmatively declaring nothing. Declaring a total separation from the politics of what’s governing our society and I say “Break the walls down.” That’s why my performances are anti-experiences. Because it’s all about deconstruction, that’s all I do is deconstruct everything.
(Josh): During the show tonight you looked out at the audience and said that when you look in the mirror, you see them. Is that what you think about when you’re alone thinking about your music or is it all the time?
(WEB): When I’m by myself, I’m either masturbating or I’m thinking about the fact that I don’t have enough weed or that I love my girlfriend and I want to know how she feels, you know what I mean? I don’t think about music at all. And if I am thinking about music, I’m just listening to my own words. It’s a sickness. It’s all a sickness, you know? The idea of doing the same thing over and over again every day, and for the purpose of molding it and perfecting it to present it in this way. It’s like doing your hair like this (ruffles hand through hair) and saying you have bed head. That’s what I do. I have a lot of problems in my real life, so I figure out “How can I make this just contrived enough to be beautiful?” So I give them that. A contrived version of my actual neuroses. I’m trying to capitalize monetarily off that.
(August): Just monetarily?
(WEB): I want redemption. But,
(August): Do you want people to have a good time?
(WEB): I have no interest in that.
(August): Do you want people to have a good time during your set?
(WEB): I have a good time by looking at things that I find disturbing.
(August): If you see someone smiling in the audience…
(WEB): If I see someone smiling then I know that they understand some of my idiosyncrasies. But I’m saying, I present what it is I would look at. You know, I’d be more likely to watch a Lars Von Trier film than a Michael Bay film. That’s too big of a contrast…
(August): No I get it, man. Your stuff reminds me of [Lars Von Trier’s film] Dancer In The Dark.
(WEB): I mean, maybe that’s a bit arrogant
(August): No it’s not, man. It’s where your art’s coming from. I think it’s brilliant. It’s some dark shit. It’s some sad shit. I like the Bjork thing, I like the Cat Power thing. You have a lot of female antecedents in your work.
(WEB): [surprised] You are so weird to say that, cuz that’s true and no one’s ever noticed that.
(August): Yeah like Cat Power [who appeared on Willis’s album Nobody Knows], Bjork, Sinead O’Connor.
(WEB): Sometimes I dance a lot. I dance more than I did tonight. And I always wanted to be in the ballet and do classical music. I can’t do either one, I don’t play the cello and I ain’t a ballet dancer. But I didn’t do any ballet moves tonight. But I try to be as feminine as possible most of the time on stage. That’s my whole philosophy on stage is to be feminine. I got a girlfriend ya know, but I just, I don’t know how you can perform when you’re not thinking feminine.
(Josh): Like your masculinity hinders your ability
(WEB): Masculinity is like some weird mutation or something. Even when I’m screaming, that’s a woman, too.
(Josh): Like the frustrations…
(WEB): I’ve never seen a man experience that kind of frustration. Except me, in that way.
(Josh): Do you feel like when you’re writing music you write in a female voice?
(WEB): Oh yeah. That’s why I hate “Too Dry To Cry” so much. It sounds like a man with a cock. Which is not a problem, I have a cock. But why do I HAVE a cock, why can’t I just have it. Why do you have to HAVE it all the time. Why do you have to walk around with it. You know, ok, I happen to possess a penis. In this country, you know [puffs out chest] “I’m a man with a penis and the way I walk is an indication of that and the way I talk is an indication of that and the fact that my neck is stiff is an indication of that.” So, I don’t know. I feel like women are more comfortable than men, but I don’t know I’m not a woman. I can’t say that. But as a performer, I take a feminine perspective.
(Josh): So then does it bother you that “Too Dry To Cry” is the song that most people equate you with?
(WEB): Oh my God, I hate it. I hate that song. Performing and music is so meta, everyone should do it. It’s like being on acid. Because you realize why you hate yourself based on what you write and what you sing and how it manifests itself and how they react to it. You’re learning so much just by exposing yourself. I expose myself through concealing myself. It’s all lies. It’s truth, but it’s also lies. I’m presenting an exaggerated version of myself on the stage for the entertainment and amusement, and hopefully the inspiration of people. But it is contrived, it’s a performance.
(Sharkula): That’s deep.
(WEB): I’m only a frail person. I am not that, that’s just a projection, you know. So all these dualities, all these juxtapositions are in my mind when I’m doing what I’m doing. And I’m thinking all high about it, but your average person is like “Hmmm…he needs a band.” You know, that’s just how it is. People aren’t going to see you as deeply as you see yourself. That’s the struggle.
(Josh): Do you feel like when you travel you see less of that mindset outside of the U.S.?
(WEB): I gotta say, based on what I’ve seen, it seems to me Europeans have more patience most of the time. I’m not saying they’re better, they just have more patience. Tonight’s crowd was really good, but American crowds don’t have a lot of patience with me. They either have patience or they absolutely do not and they’ll walk out. Or rage against it. I’ll tell people to be quiet and they’ll outright yell. I elicit reactions or compliance. They seem reverent to their own emotions and that’s why they’re watching the show. They expect to engage in some way and when they’re told the can not engage, they react to that.
(Josh): Does it help when you’re on stage to get that kind of reaction?
(WEB): Yeah. [pounds fist] Cuz it’s like I’m fighting against something. I like it. Then it’s the show. Is this guy losing his mind or this kind of thing.
(Sharkula): Could you ever live somewhere else?
(WEB): I could live in Manchester. [Stands up] I sang “Dance To The Radio” [“Transmission” by Joy Division] in Manchester. I just did it and everyone went nuts. I was like the black Ian Curtis for the night.
(August): You kinda have his mojo
(WEB): Don’t say that!
(August): The way he danced on stage, and that poetry behind his lyrics. I think you totally have that.
(WEB): I just don’t wanna hang myself from a ceiling fan. I wanna explode like he did, just now how he did.
I’ve said this many times, to myself and among my friends and anyone who would be so kind to listen to me ramble on, but it must be stated again-Wilco is the best live band in America. I only stop short of saying the world because, like “The Late Greats,” maybe there is some band I’ve never heard of that is even better. It is hard for me to imagine, though. Wilco’s ability to continue to get better after over 20 years is something I can only chalk up to some kind of divine grace that the universe has given us to make up for every moment of suffering that occurs on Earth. It’s a little miracle that I don’t take for granted.
Last night was, by my count, the 17th time I’ve seen them. I honestly only remember one instance that I didn’t leave a show thinking it was the best I’d ever seen them play (80/35, the weekend before Star Wars came out when it seemed like they were just going through the motions so we didn’t know that something huge was about to happen-for the record I also saw them at Pitchfork the following weekend when they unleashed Star Wars in full and it was amazing). They play off one another and are so in sync it can feel inhuman at times. And it’s obvious they still love playing together if you ever watch Jeff just stare as Nels wails away through a solo.
This was the final night of a four-night stand at Chicago Theatre, a stage they had graced only once, when Conan O’Brien filmed his Chicago week there. The setlists all week were great, so I had no doubt that we were in for something special. One thing I will say for the evolution of Wilco-they’ve learned how to construct a set of music that really feels like a roller coaster. They started off nice and easy with a few laid-back tunes, including “Normal American Kids,” “Cry All Day,” and “If I Ever Was A Child” off their latest album Schmilco. Then they got a little heavier with “Muzzle Of Bees,” “Bull Black Nova,” and hit a climax with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.”
The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot killer led into one of the songs that marks the biggest change in Wilco’s evolution, “Art Of Almost.” I probably said this in my initial review of The Whole Love, but that song is unlike anything in the band’s past. It’s a big, loud, arena-rocking showstopper that initially seemed to come out of nowhere but has quickly become a fan favorite at every Wilco show.
The rest of the set was a good mix of old and older songs, reaching all the way back to A.M. for “Box Full Of Letters.” Wilco (The Album) and Summerteeth got the short end of the stick, with only one song off of each getting played. But the song off Summerteeth was preceded by one of the great moments of the night: Tweedy told a story about his dad calling him in tears after Trump sent out the (thankfully) now overturned travel ban. His dad felt like for the first time his father (83) was embarrassed to be an American. That led into “I thought about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me.” A very cathartic moment for myself and I’m sure many others in the audience.
Another great moment happened a few songs earlier when Jeff gave a shoutout to longtime fan Maki, who flew in from Japan to see them play. That’s some dedication right there, and I can’t think of any band I would fly that far to see (thank goodness Wilco is right here where I live). I don’t know if Maki requested the song, but that’s when they did “Magazine Called Sunset.”
The double encore featured 7 songs, ending with the audience singing out the riff from “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which I had never seen them do until this week. They have a video of it on their Facebook page you can check out if you’d like. It was fantastic and even these overzealous dum dums couldn’t stifle our good time.
On and On and On
Normal American Kids
If I Ever Was A Child
Cry All Day
Muzzle Of Bees
Bull Black Nova
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
Someone to Lose
A Magazine Called Sunset
Say You Miss Me
Box Full of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
The Late Greats
Random Name Generator
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
I’m A Wheel
A few years ago someone sent me a copy of The Right Now Gets Over You to review. It wasn’t like anything I was listening to at the time-a throwback breakup record filled with funk and R&B and some of the best vocals I’d heard in ages. While Stefanie Berecz’s vocals carried the record for me, it was apparent that there was a lot of talent involved. Now they’re back with their first full-length in 4 years, and it finds all the potential of the 2012 release realized over 10 songs.
There was one major release that happened between Gets Over You and the new album, Starlight. They got a song placed in the huge-selling video game Watch Dogs. That brought a lot of new fans into the fold, and I think Starlight does a good job of capitalizing on their opportunity.
The sounds are very similar to the old stuff, but Starlight is a much cleaner record. The production is slick and pristine, with layers of horns, guitars, and vocals all stacked perfectly. The single “Postcard” gives a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
As a whole, the album is more fun than Gets Over You. Most of the tracks will put a smile on your face and make you want to dance, so plan accordingly if you’re thinking about seeing them play live (The Hideout, April 14th album release show!).
I was most impressed with the guitar work on “Everything Is Broken.” It’s a triply blues riff that bends and melts around Berecz’s sultry lounge singer delivery. The guitar screams through the last portion of the song in a way you won’t hear anywhere else on the album.
Starlight comes out later this week, but you can pre-order it here on vinyl or CD.