In response to my friend Ben’s Top Shows of 2014 list, I thought I’d put mine together. Despite Labors being busy trying to play as many shows as we could, I still made it to a lot of shows this year. And despite the length of this list, this isn’t all of them. Apparently, the last six months of 2014 had all the most memorable shows.
Wussy: Chicago/Red Line Tap 6/13 – Cincinnati’s Wussy came through town and sold out the Red Line Tap supporting their new album Attica!. I was curious how the diverse energy of Attica! would translate live as the album goes from quiet acoustic driven songs like “Acetylene” to full-on rockers like “Bug” and “Teenage Wasteland”. While the only acoustic instrument to show up was Lisa’s mandolin, they killed it that night- bringing it down and blowing the roof off as needed. The only time I saw them do it better was on their KEXP in-studio videos.
Guided By Voices: Chicago/Wicker Park Green Music Fest 6/21 – I had a truly magical evening hanging with my friend Matt Shelton at the Six Corners swigging bourbon from a flask and watching some Ohio-boys do it right. It had torrentially rained just prior to their set, so a lot of people opted out of the festival. Matt and I had no problem finding a comfortable spot to watch a (nearly) 60 year-old man rock harder and do more jump kicks than a man a third his age could…Bob Pollard is a consumate showman…He also, by my count, put down at least 8-10 beers and a bottle of tequila in the course of the show, which is in and of itself, a spectacle. Add to that the fact that they played heavily from Bee Thousand in honor of the 20th anniversary of its release, and the band had the gall to go and break up (again) three months later, it was a great way for them to go out.
Swans: Chicago/Lincoln Hall 6/22 – As I posted on my Facebook page, “Last night I got rocked by G B V. Tonight, I got rolled by Swans.” This show was more of an experience than a concert. My brother came to town to catch Swans play Lincoln Hall, we arrived just in time to catch the last song of opener Xiu Xiu (a band I’ve never been able to get into, that night included). It was a hot steamy night and, logically, the venue had the AC cranked for the sold-out show. True to purported form, Swans curmudgeon frontman Michael Gira came out on stage and right before the first number said something to the effect of “Turn off the AC or I’m fucking leaving,” and muttered something about saving his voice from being too dried out…What happened next was pretty mind-altering. As the band progressed through their concussive set the heat began to rise from a packed house and the pressure from the ridiculous volume of the band pressing into my chest caused a psychedelic effect which I’ve never experienced before. It was the closest I think I’ve been to an out-of-body experience. As much as I like their albums To Be Kind and Not Here/Not Now, they don’t hold a candle to this show. It occurs to me as of this writing, I stopped listening to these albums after the show.
WHY? with Serengeti/Kenny Dennis: Chicago/Lincoln Hall 9/27-9/28 – My friends WHY? rolled through town to play two great shows at one of my favorite Chicago venues. Their Saturday night show was a high-energy affair playing some of their more raucous songs. And while I think WHY? are doing some of the most interesting things in music these days, and I’ve never seen them play a dull show, they’ve obviously been toying with the arrangements of songs with original guitarist Matt Meldon returning to the fold- making songs I know well even more exciting to hear. Their Sunday night show was also nice to see as they pulled from their more mellow repertoire and albums like Eskimo Snow, which I think was terribly underrated.
As as an added benefit, rapper Serengeti opened each night. One night playing under the guise of himself, the other night performing as his alter-ego Kenny Dennis, which I’ve only seen in videos. It made for a fun night.
Phil Ranelin: Chicago/Constellation 10/5 – This show was a special treat for me. I fucking love the sound at Constellation. My friend Charles Rumback invited me to a show he was playing with trombonist Phil Ranelin. I was not familiar with his work, but am a huge fan after this show. It was a perfect trifecta that night; a great band, Ranelin, Rumback, Rod Williams (piano), and Harrison Bankhead (bass). The stripped down version of “Vibes From The Tribe” was a highlight- my head was still bopping minutes after the music stopped. And it was pretty cool to see Ranelin playing in a killer suit and socks. Did I mention how amazing the sound at Constellation is?
Secret Chiefs 3: Chicago/Double Door 10/9 – Another last minute show; my friend Zach Parker invited me to the Double Door to catch these guys. I was pretty tired that night, if I recall, but decided to go anyway. I was surprised by the openers, albeit a little disappointed. I was really into hearing some metal that night, but I didn’t quite get it until the Secret Chiefs 3 came on. It was a little rough to make it through the openers: while I was pleasantly surprised at outright hating the opener Pavlov (a band centered around a Chapman Stick- an instrument I generally dislike), they were a kind of interesting. But the Chapman Stick (it’s even dumb to say)/drum combo left a little missing in the mid-range or perhaps the dynamics. It left a little to be desired. Philly death metal band Cleric was, put best by Zach’s wife Jamie: “Punishing.”…..and not in a good way…..Secret Chiefs 3 on the other hand? Druids and wizards playing an amalgam of metal/math rock/and folk? Yes please.
The Bridge #6 w/ Escape Lane Strobe Session #59: Chicago/Strobe Recording 11/1 – To celebrate the birthday of Labors guitarist, Alexis, a bunch of us went to Strobe Recording’s Strobe Session #59. Admittedly, the main draw was Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker (a favorite of Alexis’ and mine) and trumpeter Marquis Hill, whom I’ve photographed for his last album The Poet. However the Frenchman and Belgian have another group of fans after this show. Drummer Denis Fournier’s touch was amazing- even when he was using his scarf instead of sticks, and bassist Joachim Florent’s melody and dynamism were jaw-dropping. This show needs to be made into a record, see for yourself:
Angel Olsen: Chicago/Thalia Hall 11/29 – Ina and I were lucky enough to get tickets to Thalia Hall to catch Angel Olsen swing through town on her Burn Your Fire For No Witness tour. It was our first time to the music venue at Thalia Hall, and I think it’s a good room. The sound is somewhere between Lincoln Hall and Metro. I’ve been a passing fan of Olsen’s work, but really think she’s got something with Burn Your Fire For No Witness. It’s made my Top 5 Albums of the Year. The songs translated well, with members of openers Lionlimb and Mayor Daley filling out her band. She brought it raw when she needed to, and was just as delicate as she is on the album. The highlight for me was ‘Windows’, made especially memorable when the lights went low except for a spotlight on Olsen’s sequined dress, making her into a mirrorball for the tense simmering-never-quite-boiling-in-a-good-way album closer.
Molly Sullivan & Yoni Wolf: Cincinnati/Northside Tavern 12/27 – I was home for the holidays and able to catch this show at one of my old haunts, Northside Tavern. My friend Molly Sullivan opened. I’ve not actually seen any of her music as a solo artist, although I’ve heard a few demos. I caught her old band The No-No Knots a few years ago in Chicago. Though plagued with a questionable sound-guy and some loud-talkers at the back (clearly not her fault), Molly’s songs were beautiful and haunting and compelling. I’m eager to see her new band Prim and her solo tour this winter. My friend Yoni Wolf followed with a solo set made up of some deep cuts, tracks from the cassette he dropped this year (which made my Top 5 Albums of the Year this year) and some old cLOUDEAD stuff. Despite a cold, Yoni brought it hard and was possessed that night. While I am one of WHY?’s biggest fans, it brought me back to the days of seeing Yoni doing rap battles at Top Cats and Scribble Jam. I’m told you sometimes you play your best when you’re sick, based on this show I’d have to agree.
Matthew Shelton’s Blacklight Music Series – Chicago/The Lightbox, Archer Ballroom, & Pinky Swear: Unfortunately, I only caught the first two of this amazing series put on by Chicago (by way of Cincinnati and South Carolina) multi-disciplined artist, and my friend, Matthew Shelton. I photographed the first two as well. Matt decorates the venue with fluorescent artwork and lights each show only by blacklights, hence the name. The first two shows I saw were at his artist studio, dubbed The Lightbox for these events. Due to some scheduling issues he’s had to move the location around. The third show was at Pilsen’s Archer Ballroom and the 4th was at house-show venue Pinky Swear. I was surprised at how good the sound was at Matt’s Lightbox, as the concert room was essentially a cement box. What’s great is that it isn’t tied to the bar scene, so people are there to see the music and experience the art around them. Matt opens and closes each night with a short set of his own work, and he curated some of the most intriguing acts I’ve seen this year. Cellist Shannon Hayden blew my mind at Series 1. I thought I had seen the cellist/looper pedal thing before, but she somehow kept it fresh and riveting. Hallowed Bells and Pair were hypnotic at Series 2. I look forward to the 2015 set of shows. (Full disclosure, Labors played Series 2).
The Hoyle Brothers Honky-Tonk Happy Hour – Chicago/The Empty Bottle Every Friday 5:30pm-7:30pm
Pretty much a regular thing for me these days. I had gone a lot years ago, but have started to make it a regular thing. If you like country music, and you live in Chicago, you owe it to yourself to catch these guys. They’re one of the tightest bands in Chicago, period. Their playbook is amazing, covering Dwight Yoakim to George Jones and everyone in between. I lost count at how many of these I made this year, but they were all worth it. I even got to bring Dakota to one.
Disappears played David Bowie’s Low at the MCA in Chicago 11/22. It sold out before I could get tickets, but they added a second show that night because of the demand- but I had to work a late shoot that evening. By all accounts it was a really great performance by a great band of one of my favorite Bowie albums.
Dreamtiger played Lincoln Hall in Chicago 5/16 opening for Of Montreal, but my band Labors was playing our Strobe Session that night. I’ve not seen Dreamtiger with that lineup and was really looking forward to it.