Show Review: TNK Fest With LaLa LaLa and Snail Mail

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Tomorrow Never Knows came and went in a blink of an eye and it was a great way to kick off my live shows of the new year. You can read more about this local festival in my blog post here. While it’s obvious that every artist on the lineup for TNK fest are worthy, I was definitely most excited to check out LaLa LaLa and Snail Mail.

LaLa LaLa is a local Chicago band led by England-born, Los Angeles raised Lillie West, who came to Chicago for school and only started making music a few years ago. Her debut album, Sleepyhead, was released in 2016.

The band’s follow-up, The Lamb, was released in 2018 on Hardly Art records: an independent record label based in Seattle. The Lamb came after West’s decision to live soberly after her music career was being affected by drugs and alcohol, commenting in a Stereogum article that everything in her life was “about getting high or wasted” and that “the band was sort of an afterthought.”

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Inspiration came to West after she dealt through a break-in at her Chicago apartment (that she slept through) and the recent death of a close friend. She starting to live in a deep state of paranoia and spent a lot of her free time alone, leading to her to write music that ended up on the album.

LaLa LaLa’s sharp, indie rock sound of introspection and self-control was the perfect aesthetic to lead into a set from Snail Mail. As someone who attended DePaul University for my undergrad degrees, this 45-minute set felt as though I was transported to an apartment party featuring a DIY show, complete with lots of acid wash clothing, colored hair and high tops: just switch out the cigarettes for juul pods. Or are they called juul pens?

This isn’t a good or bad thing, just an interesting epiphany that came over me during the first few minutes of LaLa LaLa’s set. They opened with “Water Over Sex,” the band’s third most streamed song on Spotify: a slower jam that seemed a bit harder to interpret sonically in a live setting. While the band may have been nervous or just needed a bit of time to get into the groove, the set became better and better as time went on: garnering the crowd’s cheers during a performance of “I Get Cut,” one of the harder songs that echo the spirit of Wolf Alice and Middle Kids.

It was a nice surprise to hear the band’s latest single, “Siren 042,” as the song had come out just a week before the show and I was unsure whether or not they would perform it. The song is a collaboration with the band WHY? – an alternative hip hop and rock band whom LaLa LaLa has toured with in the past. An even better surprise was the band’s cover of Perfume Genius’ song “Slip Away” – which fit with LaLa LaLa’s mood so well you easily could have mistaken it for their own track.

It was awesome to see a local band showcased at a sold out show and in terms of cohesion, their sound fit perfectly with the vibes coming from Snail Mail in the following set. I look forward to see where LaLa LaLa goes in the future – they’ve just stared their headlining tour and will be playing select shows with Death Cab For Cutie this summer – which is pretty neat. You can see the list of tour dates here and stream their music here.

This was the second time I was able to see Snail Mail live and I was more excited than I was the first time around. I first saw them perform at Wicker Park Fest over the summer (review here) and I definitely think that seeing them at their own show compared to a festival setting made a huge difference.

I was more excited this time around because between the time I saw them initially (in July) versus this January, I had listened to the album a lot more and became far more into it. I loved it prior, but it became even better to me as 2018 continued.

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Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail arrived onstage at 11pm sharp (I’m usually in bed falling asleep at this time on a normal Thursday) as intriguing as ever: switching out her usual garb of an oversized t-shirt and jeans for a black dress with tights paired with small heels. This probably wouldn’t have been anything noticeable for someone seeing her perform for the first time: but it was a major appearance change from when I had seen her previously. Whether this was going to be an ongoing thing or just something “for fun,” I noticed the difference.

It’s important to note that Snail Mail’s previous Chicago performance (besides Wicker Park Fest) was at the Subterranean in January 2018 – a Wicker Park venue with a cap of 400 people. Within about a year, the band upgraded to a venue with a cap of 1,100 – and sold it out. This is no easy feat, and it’s safe to assume the band’s well received debut album Lush catapulted them up the ranks of indie pop stardom.

Lindsay’s energy onstage is infectious and her emotional vocal choices make you feel everything she is singing. For someone so young, her intensity is palpable. Her ability to encapsulate an audience has grown immensely since I last saw her in Chicago, and the 6 months (ish) difference was absolutely something to take note of. She strums the guitar and interacts with audience members (not surprisingly almost entirely made up of young male admirers) with a sense of ease that I haven’t seen many young performers embody at this stage of their career.

“Heat Wave” was the perfect choice to open the 14-song long set. “I hope whoever it is holds their breath around you – cause I know I did,” she sings. I’ll be the first to admit that the next three songs I was unfamiliar with: “Dirt,” “Slug,” and “Thinning” were tracks on her 2016 EP, Habit. I prefer every song on Lush over these three.

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The next couple songs were really in Snail Mail’s sweet spot: “Golden Dream” is one of my favorites off of Lush and “Pristine” is a classic singalong song – which went perfectly with Jordan’s invitation to two young red-headed girls who I can assume are sisters – to sing the song w/ the band! I later found out after some internet sleuthing that the girls are apart of a band called “Neptune’s Core” and have a video of themselves peforming it on YouTube. It’s equal parts amazing and adorable. See below:

As I mentioned in my previous review on Snail Mail’s live show, I had a hard time differentiating between songs in a live setting since the majority of them sound the same, and this can cause the set to sound like one giant, long 45 minute song. I think the band improved upon this the second time around and I didn’t feel nearly as engulfed in a giant never ending song. I appreciated the fact that I could notice a difference. It also helped that Lindsay ended the set with two solo performances of “Anytime” and “Stick,” which helped break up the individual performances and allowed the songs to take on new lives without the rest of the band.

Snail Mail has a few more headlining shows in January and starts tour with Interpol in February. Click here for all of their dates.

As always, thanks for reading.

  • Kristin
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