Let’s be honest – anyone who tries to claim that they have loved a musician or band since the start of their career are inherently annoying. Being a fan of someone at the start of their career doesn’t mean you’re better than a fan who discovered someone’s music five minutes ago, even though that’s usually hard to admit for us self-identifying music snobs (I’m working on it).
Battling between feeling like you’re a superior fan of someone and understanding that this concept is essentially meaningless is hard to wrestle with and I am fine to admit that it’s 10000% how I feel about The Aces. I remember so vividly hearing their first single, “Stuck,” back in May 2016 and immediately being hooked on their sound. It’s been a wild ride being able to watch their career grow to what it’s become nearly three years later.
If you’re unfamiliar with these ladies, The Aces are an indie pop band comprised of four women: Katie Henderson (guitar, vocals), McKenna Petty (bass, vocals) and sisters Alisa Ramirez (drums, vocals) and Cristal Ramirez (lead vocals, guitar). All in their early 20s, The Aces became friends in school growing up in Provo, Utah and have been creating music together for over a decade. Growing up in a conservative town like Provo, The Aces were able to play at local music venues that didn’t serve alcohol – allowing them to reach audiences from a wide variety of age groups.
“Provo is very religious, so there’s no alcohol,” says McKenna. “It was awesome for us, because we were so young, but were still able to play at any venue. At 12, we were playing the same venues as 27-year-old guys. No one’s drinking, so everyone’s there to hear the music.”
The Aces spent time honing their craft & playing hundreds of local shows before signing to Red Bull Records in October 2016 – a label home to artists like Albert Hammond Jr. and AWOLNATION. They’ve toured extensively, supporting artists like Coin, The Ambassadors, Joywave and most recently, Five Seconds of Summer. I’ve missed my chance to see The Aces’ perform several times in Chicago due to scheduling conflicts or whatever you’d like to call them – but I finally had my chance to see them at Lollapalooza in 2018 just about seven months ago. It was a short set and it didn’t quite feel like it was showcasing the entirety of what The Aces could do, which is why I jumped at the chance of seeing their show in Chicago this week, apart of their first headlining tour ever.
I am a strong believer that the environment of a show can influence the way a performer feels and interacts with the crowd from the stage. Whether or not it was because Chicagoans were feeling especially happy due to the extra sunlight we were granted after Daylight Saving Time or the fact that they were happy to see The Aces (presumably a combination of both), the energy in Lincoln Hall was palpable.
The Aces began their 16-song long set with “Put It On The Line,” and you would have thought they were the next up and coming boy band with the amount of screams they garnered from the crowd. But they aren’t – which is why it’s cool. They’re four women singing about real problems that their fans are going through every day: failed relationships, confusing emotions, “fake friends” and more. They’re not getting screams because they’re cute 18-year-old boys. They’re powerful, talented and emphasize the importance of fostering a positive space for their fans to be themselves and feel embraced by other fans.
Blue, green and pink lights illuminated the crowd as I looked around and realized they were appearing from cell phones. I nudged my friend and concert buddy to ask him how this was happening. Apparently the new concert fad is to hold pieces of colored paper over the flashlight feature on SmartPhones to create this concept – one that I had been entirely unknown to until this set. The teens are more creative than we were, I suppose.
The show continued with performances of “Stay,” “Bad Love,” and “Touch” before there was any banter between Cristal and the crowd. She noted that Chicago was one of the first cities that The Aces played a show outside of their home state of Utah and has been one of the band’s favorite cities to play on tour.
As she finished singing and introduced a new song, someone near me in the crowd yelled “I LOVE HER!” so enthusiastically that I had a flashback to the time I saw Harry Styles perform his debut solo album at The Chicago Theater in late 2017. SAME ENERGY!
The comparisons between the two performers don’t end with the passion that lives in their fanbases. Cristal’s dynamic onstage reminds me of performers like Freddie Mercury, Hayley Williams, Robyn (fresh on my brain from the show I saw her perform last week) and Styles – to name a few. Their dance moves, fashion style and overall charismatic charm onstage can intrigue an audience member without them feeling too much like superstars and not enough like human beings.
Each member onstage feel comfortable and happy about the role they play and how it contributes to The Aces. They work as a foursome and would not be able to function without all four roles at play. Cristal took the responsibility of onstage banter for the most part – none of the other three took much time for commentary – besides Katie noting that a fan had commented on an Instagram post about how she felt comfortable going to one of their shows alone because “all her friends would already be there in the crowd.” Drummer Alisa riled up the crowd during a couple songs to make sure they were screaming along to the lyrics. Some of the songs that got a visceral reaction included the holy trinity of breakup songs – “Baby Who,” “Just Like That,” and “Last One.” I loved that these were all in this specific order and how they all touch on different aspects on how you can feel when a romantic relationship ends.
I patiently waited to hear my favorite song by The Aces – “Waiting For You.” The last song before the encore, WFY is a slower love song about letting go of the overanalyzing and just going with what you feel – something that I’ve never really been able to do well. The Aces are professionals at being vulnerable in their music and I love seeing this side to that vulnerability.
I loved the collective emotions you could feel emulating from the crowd as we all felt those words they were saying. It doesn’t make the emotions any easier to deal with, but it’s sure nice to feel as though a bunch of strangers feel the same way you do.
The Aces is a band made up of four talented, powerful & visionary women who are confident in what they are saying with their music. But it’s important to remember that female bands are not their own genre – they are just people who are creating music and want (and should) be treated on the same playing field. The Aces released one of the best debut albums of 2018. They are creating a strong fanbase and touring across North America playing sold out shows. It’s a lovely sentiment for women to feel like they can relate to what they are saying – but trying to view it in a lens that doesn’t defy their music by their gender is important and something I took away even more from seeing their own headlining show.
All photos by Nic Kosirog-Jones shot for Chicago Haze.
Check out their music on Spotify below.
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