A Month of Music: My March Concert Reviews

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Happy Wednesday! So since 2018 started, I’ve managed to write a review on every live show I’ve attended thus far (click here to read them) and keeping up with writing about each one was fairly manageable to do – until I got to March.

I saw five shows during March – which calculates to 16% of the month. Basically, it was becoming too frequent for me to write lengthy reviews on each one, on top of working full time and doing other things (March is always super busy for me!) With that being said, I decided to compile the reviews into one post – not my favorite way of doing so, but in terms of being able to spend time writing, this was the best way to do it.

I’ll go down the list in calendar order – enjoy and let me know what you think!

Right now, I have about three shows during the month of April – so I’m hoping I can go back to writing about each one in an individual post. It was a goal of mine during 2017 to write reviews on every single show I saw, so let’s see if I can actually pull through this year!

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March 1 – Gabrielle Aplin / Bottom Lounge

British singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin appeared on my radar last fall – her upbeat, poppy songwriting reminded me of earlier Taylor Swift meets Sarah Barielles meets Adele. Despite her small physique, she has quite the vocal ability, and her emotional lyrics paired with upbeat rhythms has garnered her over 50 million streams on Spotify. Her cover of the 1985 smash song “The Power Of Love” has nearly 30 million streams on its own.

The Bottom Lounge – located just a bit west of Chicago’s West Loop – isn’t my favorite venue. I’ve seen artists ranging from New Politics to The Maine to Japanese House to Joey Purp – quit the array of music styles – but the closeted, dark, damp feel of the venue doesn’t exactly give me the best experiences. It’s not enough to keep me from attending shows there – (duh, I saw Gabrielle there a month ago) – the only venue that may actually stop me is the Double Door – which is now closed (and is a story for another day).

As Aplin started the show, she struggled to actually maintain the entire audience’s attention – by no fault of her own, considering she sounded and looked great! I guess you would have to blame this on the design of the venue – the back hundred people or show (the capacity is 700) were talking through the entire first 15 minutes of the performance – resulting in the rest (and the majority) of the crowd shouting, shushing and overall, trying any sort of tactic to get the rest of the crowd to shut up. This gave Aplin the confidence to ask them herself to stop talking, which actually ended up working and she seemed to embrace the performance a lot more after the loud mouths decided to be respectful to the performance.

I was shocked that she opened with “Night Bus” – one of her more popular tracks. The song is fast paced and has a lot of instruments involved, and as she stepped onstage with just a keyboard and guitar, it was evident that the show was going to be more stripped down. I enjoyed the show overall but I do prefer the recorded versions of her songs more than the acoustic versions – and I wish that I knew that this was going to be the setup of the show. It turns out that it’s just far too expensive for smaller performers to pay for their bandmates’ visas to the United States – which is just really unfortunate and is no fault of the performers themselves. It was something that definitely affected my opinion on the performance – it just ended up a bit different than what I anticipated.

Highlights of the show included her performance of “Waking Up Slow,” another one of my favorites – and the “Miss You.” Overall, I enjoyed the performance, but would have preferred hearing the original versions of the song. Onward!

Follow Aplin on Spotify, Twitter and Instagram.

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March 9 – Declan McKenna / Evanston Space

I decided to venture out to Evanston to see Declan McKenna, an artist on the rise who I’ve been writing about for about a year and half. Declan, who’s only 19, has been making waves in the U.K. for his song “Brazil” – released in 2015. McKenna won Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition the same year – and caused controversy for its message about the 2014 Fifa World Cup being awarded to Brazil while simultaneously ignoring the extensive poverty issues that were piercing the nation. You get the gist. He’s super talented and young, and his first headlining tour in the U.S. was very successful – he played two shows in Evanston and one in DeKalb – all three sold out.

If you’re wondering where Evanston is if you don’t live in Illinois, it’s a town just north of Chicago and was about a 20 minute uber ride away from the north side of Chicago. When I first discovered he was performing there, I wondered why he was doing shows outside of the city when he could clearly sell out Chicago venues, seeing that these three shows all sold out. My guess is that these shows were booked awhile ago and he really did explode over the last 6 months or so. Regardless, I think taking the trip out of the city was worth it and would recommend the venue. It’s super low-key and small and had a nice vibe.

I was super unaware about the fact that the majority of Declan’s fans are young girls – many of them looked about 15-17 years old, and me being 23, felt a little out of place. My friend and I ended up standing towards the back of the crowd next to all of the parents who took their kids to the show, and I felt super out of my element, despite the fact that I go to shows pretty frequently. I arrived about midway through the opener’s performance – her name is Chappell Roan, and I was seriously impressed! Not only did she have a great voice, but I realized that I recognized her biggest song – “Good Hurt,” and she did an incredible cover of The Cranberries’ song “Dreams.” Oh yeah, she’s only 19-years-old as well.

As Declan continued his performance, it suddenly made sense to me as to why he had so many young female fans. He has a commanding presence onstage, is a cute kid (I feel creepy saying this even though I’m only 4 years older than him), and is singing about fairly heavy topics – a trend that seems to be on the rise in alternative/indie pop music nowadays.

His charisma onstage was noticeable – at such a young age I was impressed with his ability to interact with the audience and his band members with confidence and the ease of a pro who’s been onstage for years. With a set that lasted just a little over an hour, it felt complete and an accurate representation of who he is an artist in 2018, which could have been tricky as he has been crafting his career for three plus years at this point. My favorite moment was when he slowed things down halfway through the set to sing “Listen To Your Friends,” which is my favorite song by him.

You can follow McKenna on Spotify, Twitter and Instagram.

 

March 27 – Lorde / Allstate Arena

I can’t even begin to explain how long I had been waiting to see this show. After Lorde’s set was canceled 10 minutes in at Lollapalooza, I had been counting down the moments to see her perform Melodrama at Allstate Arena. The day had finally come and I was beyond excited for this show. Since it was unfortunately all the way out in Rosemont, I wasn’t able to make the opening acts – Mistki and Run The Jewels – but it didn’t even phase me because I was so unbelievably excited to see Ella. I am a fan of Mitski’s and would love to see her own show – and Run the Jewels is a little out of my comfort zone – but I’m sure they were both great supporting acts.

I would assume that I don’t need to give any background on Lorde’s career – she’s big enough for people to get the gist. I was slightly concerned that she wouldn’t be able to sell out the arena – a lot of her bigger shows on this tour haven’t been selling out – but Allstate looked completely packed, which got me even more amped for the show.

I could go on and on about this show and the emotions that I felt from start to end, but I wouldn’t be able to stop writing about it. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear this album performed live: it was almost a year after the album was released and a lot had happened to me during these 9 months: it was honestly like a giant therapy session being able to hear these songs live.

Ella has such a fantastic ability to perform to an audience of 16,000 people and making it feel like a club show: I think that’s because of the intimacy and personal essence of her music as well as her ability to simply perform without too many gimmicks. It almost felt as if we were getting a glimpse into the 21-year-old performing in her bedroom singing into a hairbrush during a writing session. It was such a special performance and although of course being able to see her set back in August would have been magical, but  seeing this performance once felt like it was all solidified. I needed to hear these songs in this moment in my life far more than I did in August.

I had seen Lorde perform three times prior to this show (four if you want to count her three songs at Lolla). Once at her own show at The Aragon Ballroom in 2014 (seems like eons ago), and then two times later that year – at Lolla ’14 and Boston Calling ’14. All were great shows, but they really didn’t compare to seeing her live four years later after the long break she took between album cycles. I loved hearing some of my favorite songs by her – like “Ribs” and “400 Lux,” but hearing “Hard Feelings” and “Supercut” were performances that I will never forget – not to mention songs that allowed me to feel closure about life chapters I’ve experienced that I didn’t realize I needed to hear.

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March 30 – Wolf Alice / Metro

Let me preface this by saying that I rarely attend rock shows, and this was one that I was unsure about going into it. I love Wolf Alice and think both of their albums are amazing, but I was starting to wonder just what exactly I was getting myself into going to see them at a live show. I saw them perform at Lollapalooza in 2016 but seeing a set really doesn’t compare to seeing a band at their own headlining show – especially one that was sold out and at a famous venue in Chicago like The Metro.

The first few songs were quieter, and the crowd took some time to warm up to their performance. They played their fair share of heavy, loud tracks from both “My Love Is Cool” and “Visions of A Life” and the crowd definitely got into it: I saw a lot of head banging, but nothing ever got to be too extreme or dangerous, which is honestly what I was concerned about. Like I said, I rarely attend live rock shows – this was probably my first real ROCK driven show, and I used to go to a lot of pop punk shows when I was younger. This crowd didn’t push anyone or start any mosh pits – probably because there were a lot of older people who are smart enough not to do anything stupid. I was relieved!

If you haven’t listened to Wolf Alice, I would 100% recommend them. It’s cool and refreshing to see a female singer lead a rock band – and Ellie Rowsell is as real of a performer, songwriter and singer as they come by. She has an ease about her that seems hard to replicate, especially in the genre of music that Wolf Alice sings.

Like I’ve said a few times already, Wolf Alice has a bit heavier music than what I generally listen to, and I prefer listening to their slower jams over the louder ones. Regardless, the show was super entertaining and well done – which makes sense because they won an NME award in 2016 for Best Live Band.

My favorite moments included the band performing one of my favorite songs of 2017, “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” and the performance of their song “Moaning Lisa Smile,” where they introduced an aspiring singer from St. Louis to play the guitar solo – because the song gets a little old playing, according to Rowsell (it’s one of their biggest songs to date).

If you’re needing anymore convincing as to why you should listen to Wolf Alice – they are signed to Dirty Hit Records, a label also home to The 1975, Pale Waves and The Japanese House.

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March 31 – Billie Eilish / Lincoln Hall

You need to know something about Billie Eilish: she’s been called the next Lorde and is only 16-years-old. She’s a talented female musician and songwriter and has hundreds of millions of streams of her music on Spotify. She sold out her spring headlining tour in five minutes and got a 23-year-old music nerd like me to pay attention to her. If you haven’t heard of her, you really must not go on on the internet often.

Billie has created quite the fandom for herself – she hit a million followers on Instagram the day of her Chicago show. She has mega stars like Dua Lipa & Troye Sivan following her on social media. Need I say more? Despite her young age, her energetic, wild and carefree stage presence has garnered her attention that has landed her on countless festival lineups and late show couches.

Going into this show I knew that I would be one of the older audience members and I was okay with it. I think the general idea is that talent is talent across all ages, and Billie is definitely an example of that fact. If you ever have the chance to see Billie perform live (Chicago readers, she’s playing Lollapalooza in August and I’m sure she will have her own after show), you will understand that she’s a walking representation of what it means to be a teenager in 2018: she’s goofy, she swears a lot, she’s passionate, she gets political, and she’s ready to get rowdy. She burped multiple times into the microphone. She cheered to the audience after asking “who here hates themselves?”

I couldn’t help but see that she was the epitome of a millennial living in America today – guys, she was born in 2002…what a scary thing to say when you were born in the 90s. Behind her goofiness and overall strange persona, it’s evident that this girl is the real deal. She writes all of her music with her older bother (who tours with her and plays multiple instruments in her band). He stepped up about 20 minutes into the song to perform his own music (and I wasn’t too impressed).

What I was impressed about was her cover of Drake’s “Hotling Bling” – I do wish she sang her fantastic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” – but it was probably too old school for her 13 and 14-year-old fans. Another impressive note was noticing how easily she transitioned from her slow to upbeat tracks – there’s a handful of both.

There are some people who are walking the planet who have that extra something special – and they wear it like a second skin. It seemed to natural for Eilish to be performing a sold out show in the third biggest city in America – just another Saturday night. Based on how fast she’s skyrocketing to fame now, I’m sure she’ll be back to perform another sold out show at a bigger venue in no time.

Thanks for reading! Did you go to any great shows this past month? Let me know in a comment below.

– Kristin

 

 

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