Last Friday I went to the Bottom Lounge on the near west side to see two bands, M83 and School of Seven Bells. It turned out to be a pretty good night, so it ended up being worth standing outside in the 20 degree weather for it.
First off, a note to all of the Chicago venues out there: If you have the start time of your show marked as 9 pm on your website, on the tickets, and pretty much anywhere else that the info is available, THEN START THE SHOW AT 9 PM!!!! That does not mean don't open the doors until 9 pm, especially during the winter when people are freezing their asses off outside. Obviously, the Bottom Lounge was guilty of that last night, as the Metro has been many times before as well.
So this was actually my first trip to the Bottom Lounge. I believe it opened early this year or late last year, so it' still relatively new. They've been booking alot of really good shows there, so I'm sure I'll be back there soon enough. Thankfully it's a three block walk from a Green line stop, so that is always good news to me. I would guess it holds maybe 500 people or so inside, so it's not a huge place, which is always good.
I do have one big complaint about the interior setup of the venue. The stage is set up so that the left and right 1/3 of the stage have the PA speakers hanging from the ceiling. The problem is, that they have a speaker box that hangs almost all the way down to the stage, and I can tell you that the lowest point is about 6 feet, 1 inch from the ground. How do I know this exact height? Because I'm 6' 2", and my head was right against the bottom of the speaker cabinet the whole night. As you can guess, this cut off a chunk of my view of the stage, so I can only imagine how bad it is for anyone behind me, or even further to my side right on the stage.
So anyways, on to the music. As you can guess from me being stuck outside a lot longer than I planned, the show started at 10 pm instead of 9. First up was the band School of Seven Bells, who I was actually looking forward to seeing. The band has only three people, one of them being Benjamin Curtis, formerly of the band Secret Machines, the other two being sisters from some other band I've never heard of.
The only time I've seen Secret Machines was at Lolapallooza 2006 (the original full lineup anyways, not the current version of the band touring). They were great at that show, and Curtis's bombastic guitar was a key portion of their sound. Sadly, not much of that was seen at the School of Seven Bells set. Curtis was the only interesting thing about the band, as he spent his time tapping around on various footpedals while his fellow band members stood almost perfectly still and droned on.
The few enjoyable moments of their set came when the band made attempts to sound more like one of their influences, My Bloody Valentine. There was no drummer, they were only playing with recordings of bass and drums, but when they went more towards MBV's massive, swirling sound, it went better. They've got ways to go as a band, they'll need to come up with something a little more interesting from here on out.
M83 took the stage thankfully quickly after a quick set up. The band is from France, and the best way most people describe them is that they sound like the lost band on the soundtrack to every John Hughes 1980's movie. They'd fit perfectly between whatever Psychedlic Furs song is on the soundtrack, and right before the big hit song rolling over the credits. They have a very dreamy sound at many points, which gives way to massives washes of walls of guitars.
The band is basically one guy, Anthony Gonzalez, but the touring version was a four piece. They did a great job of recreating the dreamy sound of the songs live, thanks in part to Gonzalez's equipment, which looked half like a Moog and half like a computer of some sort. They jumped around between his last two cd's, and things dragged a bit at some points since some of the songs went on for a minute or two too long in some cases.
Midway through the set, they played their two "hit" songs, "Graveyard Girl" (from his new album) and "Teen Angst" from his previous album. I thought they might have peaked early because of that, but shortly after that, the set somehow morphed into a dance party once again, much like a live version of the Girl Talk show from a few weeks before.
It ended up being a very good time, and luckilly it wasn't a sweaty mess in the Bottom Lounge during the sets before the freezing walk back to the train station.