In case you already didn’t know, I have successfully written a show review on every live performance I’ve seen this year so far and it’s something that I am trying to hold myself accountable for and am hoping to stick with through the rest of the year. June was a wild month for me in terms of live music: not only did I see Taylor Swift’s reputation World Tour in Chicago on June 1 and 2 (you can read the review here) – I also saw Bon Iver, Middle Kids and Overcoats – three very different musicians and three unique experiences.
June 3 – Bon Iver / Jay Pritzker Pavillion
I have always been a fan of Bon Iver in passing – never a super fan, never knew every single song and all the words, but have enjoyed his music since I was in high school. When it was announced that he was going to be playing in Chicago’s Millennium Park – his first show in Chicago in seven years, I knew I had to go. I had never seen a show in Millennium Park – and I couldn’t think of a better place to see Bon Iver.
I ended up getting tickets to sit in the lawn – I still can’t believe that I managed to get them at all because the show ended up selling out in under two minutes.
Let’s start with what I already hinted at: the venue. Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion is one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been to – if not the most – and has a capacity of 11,000 people. I got to the venue at 6pm thinking I wouldn’t have issues getting in quickly and smoothy but BOY – I was wrong. We ended up waiting nearly an hour in line to get in – something that the venue security / organizers really need to work on – but it was beautiful weather outside so I really can’t complain much…but if you’re going to a ticketed event at this venue soon, be sure to get there with ample time if you are adamant on getting space at the front of the lawn. By the time we got in we were in the very back. Not ideal but it didn’t really matter to me.
Justin Vernon’s 17-song set revolved around his 2016 release 22, A Million – playing 9/10 songs off of the album. Clearly it was a focal point of the performance (this a show apart of the 22, A Millon tour, of course). Like I said earlier, I have never been a HUGE fan of Bon Iver – I’ve enjoyed all of the music I have heard but can’t recite their album release dates or even name every song that they’ve ever released. So of course this fact came into play when I didn’t know the opening song of the performance “Woods” – a song from the 2009 Blood Bank EP (it ended up being one of my favorite songs of the evening).
I felt more comfortable when the third song, “Towers” began and I instantly catapulted back into my adolescence – a weird feeling to comprehend as a 23-year-old hearing these songs live for the first time. Although Vernon and the band was so far away from me I really couldn’t even see them onstage for the majority of the performance, I felt as though their stage presence was enough to keep me invested in a show that I couldn’t even visually see.
The power of their sound, musicianship and overall passion for the music was understandable by only hearing it and that’s something that I have never really experienced going to a live show – and it was entirely different than the previous two nights when I saw Taylor Swift put on one of the biggest spectacles I’ve ever seen at Soldier Field. Live music is cool because concert experiences are so different from one another and also bring different emotions for different people, but something about being able to witness those things in a group of thousands of strangers is really unique.
Although I enjoy Bon Iver’s latest release, I still do prefer the older releases – and I was happy when they performed songs like “Perth,” “Wash,” and “Holocene” (the closing song), but couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I wasn’t able to hear some of my favorites like “Re: Stacks” (probably my favorite song) and I was completely flabbergasted that the show ended without the band performing “Skinny Love.” I got some backlash for this opinion on the internet (whatever) but you would hope that a band performing in a city after this many years without returning would play their biggest song! I understand that they may be past this song in their career, emotionally and just not wanting to play it anymore, but it still disappoints me.
Overall, the experience was once-in-a-lifetime and I very much enjoyed the show, but would I pay to see Bon Iver again? Probably not. Nothing against their performance or ability to hold an audience (obviously because I just praised how great they were), but because I have heard a lot that I’ve already wanted to hear. It was really cool to be able to hear this music live and comparing it to how I was when I was listening to it at a young age, and that’s a feeling that I personally can only really grasp as a concept after seeing a band perform the music life. In a sense, it’s like closure.
June 9 – Middle Kids / Lincoln Hall
For the past year or so, Australian band Middle Kids was my best kept secret. I discovered them last May after I was scrolling through the Lollapalooza lineup (as I always do) and fell in love with their sound. I was at their early set that Thursday at Lolla just a couple months later and have continued to follow their career, which included a show at Lincoln Hall last September, ahead of their debut album release that came out earlier this year. I knew that I wanted to see them perform at Lincoln Hall again after their album came out – despite the fact that I ended up going solo.
The album received generally positive, reviews – Pitchfork gave it a 6.8, praising the band’s ability to create “radiant, anthemic indie rock that sounds right at home on in-store satellite-radio playlists or in the background of pivotal scenes on prime-time dramedies.”
The band’s first show at LH last year was not close to being sold out, so it was exciting to see the band return selling out the venue. You could tell that this brought them a new sense of confidence and their live show is even more polished and energetic than it was before. After a lot of touring to promote their debut album, this only make sense. Lead singer Hannah Joy, a classically trained pianist, has a powerful voice on par with the lies of Adele or Beyoncé (I am not exaggerating, she didn’t hit a wrong note the entire show) and it seemed to be even more of a presence compared to the other two times I have seen the band live.
Middle Kids didn’t waver through their 15-song set – my favorite moments included the opening track “Bought It,” “On My Knees,” and “Mistake” – my favorite Middle Kids song.
I hate to admit it, but it really does affect my show experience if I am attending it alone. I avoid doing this at all costs because I really enjoy sharing these moments with other people, and I felt like took away from the performance since I was alone. Hopefully me sharing Middle Kids on my blog will get a few friends interested in coming next time! Ha.
June 15 – Overcoats / Taste of Randolph
If you already didn’t know, Overcoats released one of my favorite albums of 2017 with their debut album, Young. Click here to read about it. I last saw them perform at Lincoln Hall in November of last year and was super excited when I found out that they were coming back to play Taste of Randolph – a food, music & arts festival in The West Loop. First off, it’s an extremely different experience to see a band perform in a festival setting compared to seeing them at their own show. My friends and I got to the festival a little early before their set to make sure we could get close to the stage – and ended up having little to no competition in doing so. Since a lot of people tend to go to these sorts of festivals just for the environment and to socialize, there was a lot less interest in crowding around the stage and getting a good spot compared to seeing a band live at their own show.
I would assume that this can also be a nerve-wracking scenario for the artist, especially when the band (like Overcoats) was not the headliner of the evening. Nonetheless, the ladies (Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell) put on a great show and ended up pulling in a decently sized audience to their set.
Overcoats is unique to other musicians I listen to because of their ability to combine folk-like harmonies with electronic music. I won’t go into detail since like I mentioned before, I’ve written about them in the past, but this unique element to their music brings an extra sense of curiosity and excitement to their live performance and I think it set them apart from the other artists performing at the festival. I was happy to hear that they are currently working on their second album and that they even played us a new song, which is always fun.
My favorite moments included hearing “Nighttime Hunger,” “I Don’t Believe In Us” and the band’s beautiful cover of Hozier’s “Cherry Wine,” which has nearly 16 million streams on Spotify.
All in all, I would definitely recommend the Taste of Randolph festival – with a suggested donation of just $10 – it’s super affordable, in a great location, and they do a decent job at their booking (artists like Allen Stone and Mondo Cozmo were also there, I saw Dawes last year). Keep in mind that the atmosphere is different than going to an artist’s headlining show: people will talk through performances, etc. but it’s still a good time and super affordable. The sound also was a bit all over the place, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?
What’s On My Concert Calendar:
July 7 – Now, Now at Lincoln Hall
July 20-22 – Pitchfork (contemplating on going Saturday to see Fleet Foxes. I’ve never been and really want to go this year!)
July 24 – Sylvan Esso