With a brand new album and 51 tour dates under their belt in 2018, you’d expect Unknown Mortal Orchestra to be going through the motions at this point. The Portland-based band has certainly been known for being prolific over the years, but you could argue this year they’ve truly outdone themselves. This was above and beyond effort was on full display during their House of Vans performance in Chicago this past Friday.
Lead singer and guitarist, Ruban Nielson, got things off to a thunderous start on the opening track “From The Sun”. The track from their sophomore LP is a fan favorite due to its haunting lyrics and its charmingly beautiful guitar work. Its live rendition sees a complete transformation in the songs’ essence. What was once an intimate and laid back tune becomes a deliciously funky piece of psychedelic rock. Not only is a larger emphasis put on the drums and bass in this rendition, but Nielson’s relatively tame guitar work becomes a mountainous jam of fuzzy guitar bliss. The extensive solos loosened up the crowd perfectly for what was to come. The bouncy “Necessary Evil” had people dancing with this its light drum work and catchy guitar and key motifs. It is easy to envision the song being played in a blues lounge as it fills the vibe with a mysterious and smoky vibe with its effortless strut.
The contrast between the rowdiness of “From The Sun” and the mysterious and more reserved “Necessary Evil” perfectly exemplifies who the band has become. They live perfectly in a juxtaposition between melody and grime. Where one moment you can be singing the infectiously funky melodies that make up much of the band’s later work. The next moment you can be smacked in the face with an absolute assault of distortion and fuzz. While this lack of commitment to either direction may foreshadow disaster in the near future, you cannot help but love that this band is toeing that line quite perfectly right now. Friday’s show at House of Vans proved that sometimes cohesion can be overpowered by true talent and versatility.
Sylvan Esso is Amelia Randall Meath on vocals and Nicholas Sanborn on a sound board. They’ve been married since June 2016. Tonight is the first of two sold out shows in Chicago. Early on in the set, they play “Die Young”. “I was gonna die young, now I gotta wait for you honey” she sings. It’s a bizarre love song that is enchanting. Their sound is reminiscent of The xx but with more of a dance vibe. This vibe is enhanced by their great backdrop and the great lighting for the entire show.
Meath is a fantastic performer. She commands the stage as she dances and works the crowd. “Today is supposed to be a recovery day,” says Sanborn. “Not a Friday night rager!” Every night in Chicago can be a party, especially when it’s a packed house at the Riviera. Even though Meath more than makes up for there only being two people on stage, it would be great to see them form a live band to perform these songs, instead of just having Sanborn hit buttons and turn some knobs.
When they return for the encore, they bring with them the opening band, Collections of Colonies of Bees, to sing a song by local Chicago band, Califone. It’s not a very popular song, and the band doesn’t bring their instruments, so it’s a bit of a lost opportunity. To close, they play “Play It Right”. It’s a strong finisher and it leaves everyone with a smile on their face as they walk out in the a nice Chicago summer night.
It is fair to say that festivals often benefit from inertia. When things are going well, it is often going to stay that way. Following the miraculous events of Friday, Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 was off to a tremendous start. Not only did the undercard and headlining act Tame Impala bring ferocious, energy-packed performances to the table, but the audience was also blessed with surprisingly great weather. What was supposed to be dreary and thunderous day turned into sunny and melodic evening. Fans of indie rock, underground hip-hop, and experimental music alike all stood unified enjoying some of their favorite artists perform. This truly beautiful day, as alluded to earlier, was not an isolated incident. In fact, Saturday at Pitchfork was perhaps an even stronger showcase of music, art, and creativity.
While acts like Paul Cherry, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and The War On Drugs all put on terrific shows, the triumphant performances of the day were from Moses Sumney and the Fleet Foxes. While both performances were very vocal-centric, they held two completely different tones. Sumney’s set cast a haunting shadow on the entire audience. His incredible vocal range and control were paired with eerie instrumentation, consisting of oboe textures, violin sways, and some occasional sporadic drumming. On top of this, Moses added tons of vocal loops to the mix to create an atmospheric depth that few artists can attain. It was a uniquely beautiful experience that the audience will not soon forget.
On the other side of the coin, the Fleet Foxes’ furious momentum and compositional prowess shined in their headlining set. While Sumney had the audience perfectly quiet and still, Robin Pecknold and company were somehow able to create both a beautiful and boisterous audience experience. Fan favorites like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Mykonos” had fans regaling in nostalgic joy. Pecknold sounded as strong as ever and the rich layers present on their albums still shined through in their live performance. On top of this the vocal harmonies that define their sound, may have sounded even stronger live than on record. Even when they weren’t cranking out crowd favorites, Fleet Foxes were on top of their game. “Mearcstapa” left the audience in a whirlwind with its beautiful mess of guitar interjections. “On Another Ocean (January/June)” was another highlight as it triumphantly cut through the listener’s ears with a brass explosion in the second half of the song. Lastly, the band’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Fool for You” saw the band indulging in a Motown feel that felt fresh yet not too foreign.
At the end of the day, Saturday’s performers left off right where Fridays did. The day was chalked full of energetic performances, creative art, and positive spirits for everyone to enjoy. The Fleet Foxes and Sumney may have stolen the show, but they were merely favorites as the whole day was an astounding experience for all.
The Color Purple was written by Alice Walker in 1982. The following year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1985, Spielberg directed a film version starring Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey. In 2005, the musical version first appeared on Broadway and earned eleven Tony Award nominations. In 2016, it returned and won the Tony for Best Musical Revival. And now, in July of 2018, it graces the stage at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
The Color Purple is the story of Celie, a young black woman in Georgia in the early 1900s. She is given away by her father to be married to Mister. He beats her and treats her very badly. When her sister comes to stay with them, he makes a move on her in a very aggressive manner. It’s a very dire situation that Celie struggles to escape.
The entire cast does an excellent job singing all the great songs. Carla R. Stewart is fierce as the sexual Shug Avery, who turns all the men’s heads when she enters a room. Carrie Compere is passionate as Sofia, another very strong female role. Gavin Gregory tackles the difficult role of playing the unlikable Mister with talent. Lastly, Adrianna Hicks is splendid as Celie who truly comes of age in this production.
Get tickets now for The Color Purple through July 29th!
Four men meet in an apartment above a bar at Clark and Roscoe. They are there to share their struggles without judgement. Only the person holding the talking stick may speak. During the meeting, an incident occurs outside and a surprise guest enters the scene.
Ryan Kitley (Lettie) plays Brian, the leader of the group. He’s very excited to talk about Amber, his girlfriend who is 20 years younger than him. He says everything is perfect. The other guys say this isn’t normal and it sounds like trouble. Keith Kupferer is great as Roger, an Artie Lange type character. He’s a man’s man who finds the whole group thing kind of silly, but he’s trying something new. Anthony Irons (How to Use a Knife) is solid as Delano, the married guy from Oak Park. Also, Tommy Rivera-Vega is very funny as Kevin, the salsa teacher.
Despite the cast being great, the play is a bit of a letdown. Nothing very dramatic happens and it’s all very lighthearted. It may have been out there 10 years ago, but now it’s quite tame. However, music is very well used in the performance. Unfortunately, a list of songs used was unable to be obtained.
Get tickets now for Support Group for Men through July 29th.
This play is based on the true story of Chicago workers unionizing and fighting for worker’s rights in 1886. Tensions rise between the strikers and the police force. On May 4th, a bomb thrown at the police explodes resulting in the death of seven policemen. Eight labor activists are brought to trial in connection with the bombing. A memorial at Desplaines and Randolph marks the exact location of this historical event.
The cast does an excellent job in this production. They all play instruments, sing, and move around the stage with precision. Also, they recently recorded a cast album that is currently in the mixing process. They truly bring this Chicago history to life. The only issue is that there many be too many characters. Focusing on few main characters would allow the audience to care more about their outcomes.
Get tickets now for Haymarket through Sunday, July 22nd!
There are not many performers around with a legacy comparable to George Clinton. His irresistible grooves and zany personality inspired generations of jazz and funk musicians to come. Though his heyday is long gone, the last couple of years have been kind to 76 year old. From signing to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label to being included on Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop-jazz odyssey To Pimp a Butterfly, Clinton has seen plenty of action as of late. This late-career reemergence would suggest that Clinton still feels as if he can make people dance. I am pleased to say that he was absolutely right.
From the very opening note of “One Nation Under Groove”, it was apparent that the audience was in for a fun time. The Parliament Funkadelic live band oozed of energy and musicianship as vocal inflections creatively staggered over each other. George Clinton, himself, was about as active on stage as you could have expected. Nonetheless, his charisma and voice cut through as strong as ever. On “Give Up The Funk”, the audience was able to immerse themselves in a truly legendary groove. The refrain of “we want the funk” is engrained in many people’s mind, so it was somewhat of a spiritual moment for many big fans of the funk genre. “Atomic Dog” also served as an iconic moment for many involved. The vocal ad-libs on that track felt as iconic as ever and ultimately created a very fun environment for the audience to be in.
At the end of the day, George Clinton may not be the most perfect performer, but at his age, you would never ask that of him. What is important is that at the ripe age of 76, he still radiates joy in his performances. His aura is infectious at this point and I think the many smiling faces in the crowd would agree with this sentiment.