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Hurray For The Riff Raff at Pritzker Pavilion 6/22/2017

Great show last night by one of my favorite acts. Hurray For The Riff Raff came back to Chicago after only a couple months and delivered another spectacular set of songs, mostly from The Navigator and Small Time Heroes.


Air At Auditorium Theater 6/20/2017

French duo Air returned to Chicago for the first time since 2010 last night to play Auditorium Theater in support of their recent Twentyears collection. That’s right, Air have been playing music together for 20 years and the new discs are a pretty comprehensive overview of their career. If you really want to get to know them, you should just start at the beginning and listen to all of their albums from beginning to end. Moon Safari was the first record that I really liked in the “electronic” genre, so I owe the band a great debt of gratitude for introducing me to something I didn’t know I’d like. Also, their score for Virgin Suicides is one of the best ever made

Last night was my first time seeing them perform live, and immediately it struck me how much gear was on stage. For a band known as “electronic” they had a lot of stuff. Multiple guitars, a banjo, drums, keyboards, synths-a really impressive setup to make all the sounds they create on their albums. They didn’t talk to the audience except to say thanks through a modulated voice, but the music said plenty.

The set was filled with “the hits” from their run over the last three decades. 4 songs from their debut Moon Safari, 3 off 10 000 HZ, and 5 from the brilliant Talkie Walkie. The rest were picked up from singles and soundtracks. I’m only disappointed that they didn’t have Rhymefest come out and perform “Alpha Beta Gaga,” which was remixed by Mark Ronson to feature the Chicago MC back in 2004.

I’m glad that Air decided to play some shows in the States for this momentous occasion. I just hope it isn’t another seven years before they come back. It’s clear they still enjoy playing together, and love the audience. Here’s to 20 more years Nicolas and Jean-Benoit!

Setlist

Venus, Don’t Be Light, Cherry Blossom Girl, J’ai Dormi Sous l’Eau, Remember, Playground Love, People In The City, Radian, Alpha Beta Gaga, Run, Talisman, How Does It Make You Feel?, Kelly Watch The Stars

Encore: Alone In Kyoto, Sexy Boy, La Femme d’Argent

Arkells at House Of Blues 6/9/2017

Arkells returned to House Of Blues on Friday night after opening for Frank Turner at the venue back in January. Frontman Max Kerman must have been taking notes during those gigs, because he utilized every square inch of the stage during their headlining set. And when he divided he needed even MORE space, he just jumped over the barricade and hung out with the crowd. They’re a fun bunch of guys, and their music lends itself to a night of fun and good feelings. This was my fourth time seeing them in two years, and I have left each show very satisfied.

With last year’s release of Morning Report I think Arkells turned a corner and stumbled onto the path to fully realizing their potential. Like most great bands, it took a while to get there. I think they’re headed toward much bigger things in the future.

The set list was a mix of new and old, reaching as far back as 2008’s Jackson Square for “Pullin Punches.” For newer fans who haven’t gone back to listen to the older albums, its good to pepper in some of that original stuff so they get a better idea of where the band came from.

One of the big highlights for me is watching Max mess with lead guitarist Mike DeAngelis. I don’t know them personally, but they seem to have a great relationship. Mike is a great guitar player and, I think, gets overlooked at times due to Max’s boundless energy and charisma.

The connection with the audience is really what it’s all about. Arkells do a great job of making everyone feel involved, naming the concert goers the “non-denominational choir” of whatever city they’re playing. They even asked a guy to come up and play guitar on a song-and he sounded pretty good!

Hiber at Martyr’s 5/20/2017

Saturday night capped a journey for Danny Surico that started a couple years ago when his band The Future Laureates decided to call it a day (at least for a while). Shortly thereafter, Hiber was formed and some music was recorded for an EP. That was over a year ago, and finally What You Wanted is available for all to hear. The band celebrated with a show at Martyr’s to introduce everyone to the new sounds.

If you’re familiar at all with Danny’s songwriting, a lot of the songs will have some familiar notes. The live show features songs both old and new, ranging from traditional folk to rock, pop, and blues. The songs on What You Wanted, however, lean a little more toward the Paul Simon songbook than anything else. During the show they even covered another big Paul Simon fan, Josh Ritter.

What I was most struck with during the show, having seen what I believe was their first live set last summer at Ribfest, was how much Danny has grown as a bandleader. With the help of producer/bassist Yoo Soo Kim, Danny has arranged his songs for ultimate impact.

You can hear the full EP right now at The Deli’s website.

Sorority Noise at Bottom Lounge 5/11/2017

Back in March Sorority Noise released You’re Not As _________ As You Think,” and it’s compelling combination of emo-punk riffs and message of self-worth and love have kept it in my top 20 records of 2017. I finally got to see them play live in Chicago tonight at Bottom Lounge.

There were crowdsurfers and singalongs, and not a whole lot of banter, but the music really spoke for itself. When they finally got to the end, lead singer Cameron Boucher talked about his battles with manic depression and the need for everyone to be understanding and support one another. It was a nice moment to reflect on the community bands help to create and how now, more than ever, we need to step up and not be jerks.

 

Valley Queen at Metro 5/7/2017

I got an email roughly 0.000003 seconds after listening to Valley Queen’s “Pulled By The Weather” asking if I’d be interested in checking out their show here in Chicago. I thought the song was really excellent, so I said yes. I checked out their EP, Destroyer, and found it an enjoyable listen. It’s a bit of soulful folk music, but when they hit the stage to play live, the guitars come to play and it turns into a full-on rock and roll show.

My initial reaction to the music was that it reminded me of Janis Joplin playing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. A couple songs later Courtney Barnett’s voice pops in a bit as well. It’s a good dynamic, marrying the older, classic sounds with something a little more contemporary. Natalie Carol’s voice can get up there with a range that is impressive to say the least. She can also shred, and does so at every opportunity.

The band seemed to be having a great time in front of the already pretty big crowd. Opening for Laura Marling, I wasn’t sure how the crowd would respond once Valley Queen started to get loud. Turns out they dug it. Lots of cheering after every song, and not the polite kind like I do when someone is trying really hard and it’s just not working. No, I imagine they converted a lot of new fans last night.

You can check out their stuff on Spotify, or you can head over to their Bandcamp page and buy their EP right now.

Ron Gallo at Thalia Hall 4/28/2017

When I saw the name Ron Gallo as the opener for Hurray For The Riff Raff, I assumed it would be a guy and an acoustic guitar playing some soft folk songs for half an hour before the main act came to the stage. That was, to put it mildly, an incorrect assumption. The three members of Ron Gallo came out and, after a brief explanation of who they are, ripped the stage apart. Ron Gallo’s frantic guitar work leads this garage/punk/blues band to all kinds of music sensations. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Check out this video from the show to give you an idea of their style.

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