Monday, September 28, 2009

Trail of Dead/Secret Machines at Logan Square Auditorium

After the Thursday show at the Bottom Lounge two nights before, I was hoping that the Friday night show was going to get me back into the grove and make me stop feeling like an ancient old man at the shows. I headed to the Logan Square Auditorium with very high hopes, and luckily those were met.

There were three bands on the lineup that night, the new Chicago band Pool of Frogs (who I knew nothing about), and co-headliners the Secret Machines and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. I got there pretty early and grabbed a spot right at the front of the stage, and didn't need to move from there the rest of the night.

I had never heard of Pool of Frogs before Friday night, so I had no idea what to expect, but I very quickly became a big fan of theirs. The band played fairly straightforward rock, but much like Matt & Kim a few weeks before, you can tell they were greatly enjoying what they were doing, and looked like they were having the time of their lives opening the show.

On top of that, they had one of the best new performers I've seen in a while. Their drummer, Will Duncan, is a complete madman who reminded me alot of Jack Black if he played the drums, and their set was fun enough just watching him go nuts for the half hour or so. They'll definitely be a band to watch, and I know I'll be seeing them again in the future.

Next up was The Secret Machines. I had last seen them at Lollapalooza 2006, where they played a midday set in the baking sun after the release of their debut album. The band is a trio, but the most outstanding member is their amazing drummer, Josh Garza. I definitely picked the right spot to stand that night, since I was surprised to find that Garza was setting up his drum kit right on the edge of the stage directly in front of me, close enough that I could have rested my hand on his bass drum, although I was not worthy to do so.

Garza turned out to be a very nice guy, he politely warned everyone standing close that he was about to do a soundcheck for his drums, so he suggested that everyone ought to put in their earplugs at that point. It was definitely a very wise idea, or my ears would still be ringing four days later. I have to give him credit too, he spotted a guy two or three people down from me who was passing out midset, and he tried to pass a bottle of water to the guy to keep him from passing out. Pretty impressive for a guy drumming like a maniac the rest of the time.

The band surprisingly opened with the closest song they've had to a hit, "Nowhere Again," and the vantage point I had was like having a master drum class done 3 feet away from me. The band skipped around their three albums during their 50 minute performance, but when they wanted to get the crowd going, they always went back to the songs from their great debut. When the set was nearly over, a guy next to me who was dangerously teetering on the annoying jackass/really spirited fan line was begging Garza to have them play their best song from that album, "First Wave Intact." Garza shook his head like it wasn't going to happen, setting off a minor wave of disappointed groans, then launched into the dinstinctive drumbeat that opens the song.

"First Wave Intact" is an incredible live song, it starts slowly with a great drumbeat with a droning bass line, and slowly over about 6 minutes builds into a massive, earth rumbling conclusion. Garza and the rest of the band performed it perfectly, whipping the front rows of fans into a frenzy.

After a short break, it was time for the Trail of Dead to take the stage. I've seen them several times in the past, they can either be one of the best bands you can see live, or they can be a bad sloppy mess, all depending on the level of alcohol they've taken in before showtime. Judging by their performance on Friday night, they probably didn't have a drink for a good week before the show, because they were solid and firing on all cylinders.

The band, which has grown into a six-piece, even with two drummers, took the stage quickly and opened with "Isis Unveiled" from their fantastic album from this year, "The Century of Self." The song is like a cyclone swirling madly into itself, then seemingly dying out, before exploding open once again. With barely a moment's rest, the band then tore into "It Was There That I Saw You" from their landmark album "Source Tags & Codes," with the roller-coaster song whipping along at breakneck speed and threatening to rumble off the tracks at any point, but managing to tear all the way to the end.

Trail of Dead, with main leader Conrad Keely steering them on, continued to play a solid set, varying between the most recent album and "Source Tags," with a few highlights from another album, "Worlds Apart," thrown in. Another highlight of the set was when the band managed to get the crowd to be absolutely silent along with them, then they without warning exploded into the furious opening of "Will You Smile Again For Me." Another highlight was when alternate lead singer Jason Reece took over the mic for his standout track from "Worlds Apart," "Caterwaul," which after about one line of the song he jumped into the audience and spent the remainder of the song singing it from the pit, while doing his part to keeping the shoving and dancing going there.

The band wrapped up their set with a couple of songs that were pre-"Source Tags" as a treat for their long time fans, keeping the thriving pit going to the very end of the night. Despite their old reputation, not a single instrument was damaged during the entire night, which is not how their shows ended in the old days.

In all, this was a pretty incredible night of music that will probably never happen again in Chicago, so I was pretty thrilled that I was there to see it. It was definitely the best concert of the year to date. To top it off, I got news from Michele that our newest nephew was born that night as well, so it was a good night for the world all around.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Highs and Lows of the Bottom Lounge

Hello once again, can't believe it's almost been two months since my last update, guess it's time to do a little catching up.

I've been heading out to a bunch of shows as of late, including two recent ones at the Bottom Lounge, a bar/club that's been hosting shows for a year or two now just west of the Loop. I first went there about a year ago to see M83, and the big problem I had with the place was that they had rows of speaker cabinets hanging from the ceiling that blocked a large chunk of the viewing area from the floor.

I first went back about two weeks ago to see the piano/drum duo Matt and Kim, who I had to miss at the Pitchfork Festival this year to save our spots while Michele and Bella tried to check them out. I know you probably think you've never heard of the band at all, but I promise that if you've seen the commercials for the new show Community, or if you saw the right Heineken commercial, you've heard their songs.

I first saw Matt & Kim I believe at Lollapalooza 2007, when they were a very last minute addition to fill a couple of suddenly empty spots in the schedule. They had just released their debut album, and looked like they were both having the time of their lives playing to one of the biggest crowds they ever had to that point.

The band has been building a loyal audience since then, based around their goofy, giddy blasts of poppy punk. The band has been gaining recognition as well, both in the previously mentioned commercials, as well as video plays for the great newer songs "Daylight" and "Lessons Learned" from this year's Grand. They even won a MTV video award for their great video for Lessons Learned, but sadly it wasn't telecast, so Kanye couldn't interrupt them. Oh well.

The good news is the duo was just as giddy and thrilled to be playing as they were two years ago. I've been going to concerts religiously for about 15 years, and in all that time I don't think I've ever seen two people so happy to be performing. It's an infectious energy that their young crowd eats up and feeds right back to them throughout their short set.

The band had about an hour to play, but they could have easily played every single song they've released on two albums, plus a cover or two in that entire time. So the band instead had fun dancing around and frequently breaking to tell the crowd how happy they were to be there and thanking everyone for being a part of it. After closing with "Daylight," both band members even jumped into the crowd to "dance" with them the rest of the night, which basically mean them getting shoved around constantly while people tried to take pictures with them.

About a week and a half later, I headed back to the Bottom Lounge to see Thursday, a great New Jersey band I haven't seen playing live in about 5 or 6 years unfortunately, despite the fact that they've put out three fantastic albums in that time. The last time I saw them, they were playing on the side stage in a parking lot at a Q101 festival, and the guitarist got so into the first song, he didn't notice where he was, and fell off the stage a good 7 or 8 feet to the concrete below. To his credit, he got right back up and finished the entire set despite the fall. At least at the Bottom Lounge, if he fell again, it would only be about a three or four foot drop.

There were 4 bands on the lineup that night, and thankfully the show started around 5:30. Of the three opening bands, only the middle one, I believe their name was Broken Windows, was worth watching. They reminded me of Girls Against Boys, minus their whole disco rock angle, with a bit of Queens of the Stone Age thrown in.

Thursday took the stage around 8:15, which was shockingly early for a headliner. They plowed through "Resuscitation of a Dead Man," their opening track of their newest album, "Common Existence." They jumped around their catalog, focusing on alot of track from their two previous great albums, "War All the Time" and "A City By the Light Divided." The band's lead singer, Geoff Rickly, was a great band leader, as he threw every ounce of energy he had into every song, looking like he was nearly going to hyperventilate at some points in the night.

Despite his performance, something seemed a bit off with the band overall. The songs just sounded muddy live, it was hard to decipher the lyrics live, and rest of the band just sounded sludgy and it was hard to tell one song apart from another.

I was nearly one of the oldest people in the audience in the show, and seeing that alot of the crowd was still going nuts and loving the show was actually making me wonder if I was losing it. I'll chalk that up to either it being a Wednesday night in the middle of a long, busy week, or just one bad show night out of a good streak, but I was wondering if it was time to slow down on seeing concerts after that. Thankfully, I went to another show two nights later that quickly changed my mind. More to come on that.