Show Review: half•alive Bring The Grooves and Dance Moves to Chicago

One of the coolest, yet weirdest things about the streaming era is just how often you will stumble across a band, hear a song or two, maybe save the tracks or add them to your most recent playlist, and then never dive any deeper past that. But then you may come across their name on a lineup at a show you’re planning to see, or a festival bill, and it gives you a chance to revisit the band and remember the time in your life where you first heard their music. That’s all a really long and thought-out concept, and maybe that’s just how I see it, but I hope I’m not the only one who sees it that way.

That’s how I first started listening to Sure Sure, an experimental pop band based in Los Angeles. The group, featuring Chris Beachy (keyboard and vocals), Charlie Glick (guitar and vocals), Kevin Farzad (drums and percussion) and Michael Coleman (producer), have been releasing music for the past five years from their house-turned-studio in Highland Park. Their management website states that their sound can be characterized as if “the Talking Heads, Tame Impala and Steely Dan raised their love child together.”

Thanks to the way that Spotify can make you go viral on the internet, Sure Sure has found immense success through streaming and even garnered the attention of artists like Rostam and Hippo Campus, who the band ended up touring with at the beginning of 2018. Sure Sure also toured with Young The Giant earlier this year.

Their latest stint includes a handful of tour dates with half•alive. Check out photos of their set at the Metro on Oct. 12 below:

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Next up was half•alive, a group that I became mildly obsessed with earlier this year after hearing a handful of their tracks after seeing they were headlining Schubas Tavern here in Chicago, with support from another artist I’ve liked named Joan. My fingers were crossed that they would end up on this year’s Lollapalooza lineup, which ended up happening. Unfortunately, they were too early in the day on Thursday of this year’s festival for me to make in time, so I was hoping they would return to Chicago soon. I knew that they were continuing to tour into the fall and figured there was a chance they were going to add a date in Chicago, but had to wait until Lollapalooza was over to announce it (radius clauses, ya know?) The band’s music is a mixture of experimental indie-pop and rock with sounds similar to Twenty One Pilots, Lany and Hippo Campus, including groovy hooks and interesting electronic-infused synths.

Like Sure Sure, half•alive is also based in California and started creating music together in 2016. Lead singer Josh Taylor, who was once apart of a band called The Moderates until 2017, had embarked on a seven-month songwriting program with the hopes of writing 50 songs. In an interview with NBHAP, Taylor explained that his songwriting process revolves around hitting the sweet spot between abstract and relatable lyrics in order to allow listeners to interpret them in their own way.

“One of my favorite things is when someone takes the song, can understand the meaning and then it relates to their life in a very unique way. The message is there, it’s received and then it’s adapted into their story. And it can fit their as well as someone else’s story in a very different way. It’s incredible how that can happen.”

Taylor eventually joined forces with a friend, Brett Kramer, who helped him develop the songs and form a band. half•alive’s first single, “The Fall,” was released on April 24, 2017. half•alive’s first EP was released in 2017 and soon after, a new member was added to the band: J Tyler Johnson on the bass.

Last August, the band’s new single, “Still Feel,” was released, accompanied by a music video. The song and video caught the attention of major music publications like Alternative Press and Rock Sound. NPR also featured it on an “All Songs Considered” playlist. The song’s success led to half•alive signing a record deal with RCA Records and they spent a good deal of 2019 touring to promote their music and upcoming debut album, released on August 9.

In between festival performances and a headlining tour which kicked off on October 2, the band had time to squeeze in an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which received high praise. Check it out below:

half•alive’s headlining set at the Metro this past weekend was the band’s 9th show of the tour thus far, but the energy exuding from Taylor the moment he stepped onstage was truly something I have never experienced at a live show. The track, “ok ok?” opened the evening and Taylor took to the middle of the stage immersed in the darkness. Two more people arrived onstage, holding lights over his face, shifting the illumination from left to right during the song, audience members craning their necks to get just a peek of his face in the otherwise completely dark space. The entire song went like this.

Though it is a slower track, it built into the very much attention-grabbing performance of “RUNAWAY,” which may be my personal favorite song of the band’s. The same two bodies from the first performance reappeared and exploded into a choreographed dance around the stage as Taylor continued to sing. To get a visual of this performance, click here to see the band perform it on The Late Late Show with James Corden.

I’ve seen my handful of performances featuring choreographed dance routines (the few that come to mind are Taylor Swift and Mitski – on two completely different ends of the spectrum), and someone like Lorde whose chaotic, expressive dance moves do seem to take on a sort of choreographed meaning unique to her and her alone. But nothing stood out to me in the way that half•alive’s did: you think that being a musician and vocalist is enough? Nah, go see a half•alive show and see the amount of work that goes into their dance moves. It doesn’t look easy, especially on a smaller stage like the one in Metro.

I think a choreographed performance can tend to come off as a little bit too rehearsed or disingenuine in some instances, but I thought that half•alive took it to a whole new concept that I had never seen before. It gives life to their music past just the production and lyrics, and makes you think harder than you were when you walked into the venue. It’s also impacted me to the point that I needed to revisit their music and see if I could interpret it in different ways than I what I had heard during previous listens, which is a feat that is really hard to accomplish as a musician (at least I would assume).

The band ended up playing just 13 songs, which felt long enough to conclude the set but I think both the band and the audience definitely had more energy to hear a couple more tracks. They played 12 of the 13 tracks from their debut (minus one 37-second interlude), so basically the entire album, and then two more songs from other projects. So it’s not like they really have a ton of material to perform live, but I think it’s only saying good things that I wasn’t ready for the show to end when it did.

Check out a few photos of the set below and click here to see half•alive’s dates for the rest of the tour before they go international.

 

 

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Thanks for reading! All photos by yours truly.

  • Kristin
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