Jack White – Auditorium Theatre – Chicago, IL – 7-24-2014

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With the backdrop of a Beyonce & Jay Z concert, at nearby Soldier Field, a notable buzz was present in the air Thursday night. Strolling towards the Auditorium Theatre, I saw nothing but smiling faces either heading into the Auditorium Theatre or towards Soldier Field. Downtown Chicago was bustling.

As I got my ticket scanned, I quickly noticed a huge line at the merchandise table to the left of me. T-shirts above $30 is no doubt the norm now, but a little too rich for my blood. I scanned for more items and saw some tour exclusive guitar picks for $15 that I felt was okay to purchase but luckily the huge line dissuaded me.

The concession stands offered good ‘ole Budweiser (and his first cousin Bud Light) for $6, which in terms of beer prices is quite fair nowadays (sad to say).

As I settled in the theater the sounds of, New Orleans native, Benjamin Booker overtook the building. Opening up for Jack White for his Lazaretto tour, Booker and his band played an organic and straightforward rollicking rock ‘n’ roll set that had many people in their seats and by the stage nodding right long. Great set. Seek out Booker at Lollapalooza this year…

As I finally reached my seat and basked in the atmosphere of the energetic crowd, a blue tinged light engulfed the theater. This was a sold out crowd. Jack White would be playing next. My heart was pumping.

Jack White, an enigmatic figure for much of his career, has created such a diverse fan-base from a wide-ranging depth of music. Obviously know for his time with the White Stripes, the dissolution of the band led him to The Raconteurs and, later, The Dead Weather (where he was actually the drummer for the band). And let’s not forget his collaboration with country royalty Loretta Lynn. Jack’s solo career has allowed him to continue his virtuosity on the guitar but still keep that type of musical diversity within him. But more importantly it also gives him the ability to present his incredible body of work live. Now promoting his well received (and number one album) Lazaretto, Jack has notably been playing incredible sets.

As the crowd conversed waiting for Jack to come on…BAM!

With the curtain still drawn, the band was amplified and ready to go. The crowd rose to its feet and shouted at the top of their lungs as the curtain was drawn back and revealed Jack White and his band.

Unleashing the heavy riffs of “Icky Thump,” Jack and the band started the show with the same fury that engulfed his now “epic” show at the Chicago Theater the night before. Shuffling back and forth and across the stage, Jack had the entire crowd in a headbanging and air guitar frenzy. And just like that…the set was over. One song. The curtain was drawn again.

Again….enigmatic.

The crowd, feeling teased, became boisterous wanting more and more as minutes passed and silhouettes moved back and forth behind the curtain. Finally, the curtains were drawn back again and Jack was putting some new shoes on.

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Starting up again, “Astro” (the up tempo rocker from the Stripes debut album) was the first song on the “second” set of the night. Judging by the fist pumping in the crowd, White Stripes songs were clearly crowd-pleasers.

Jack’s newest single, “Lazaretto,” quickly followed utilizing the talented backing band members, and, in particular, the very talented Lillie Mae Risch on violin. Her violin solo drew a huge cheer from the crowd. That’s impressive.

The Stripes sing-along-song “Hotel Yorba” made everyone prove how many verses of the song they actually knew by heart, but ultimately everyone knew to sing extra loud during the chorus.

The mood settled for a second as “Entitlement” and “Alone in My Home,” both from the new album, offered pensive lyrics, but a damn catchy piano melody on the latter song.

More Stripes songs rolled through with “The Same Boy You’ve Always Know” providing another sing along moment for the crowd. A subdued version of the always heavy-sounding “Cannon” was melded with an outstanding version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” and, the reworked Raconteurs song, “Top Yourself.”

A stripped down version of “Ball and Biscuit” brought out a heavy spot of electric blues. Jack White told the crowd how if you were to ask high school students in Chicago who John Lee Hooker was, 90% would know. Conversely, the native Detroit, MI rocker, said that, sadly, the complete opposite would be true in Detroit. Jack White loves his blues and so does Chicago. So, it’s no surprise as to why we love one another…

Its True That We Love One Another-The White Strip…: http://youtu.be/Jnw-NZyOhjQ

As he ended his “second” set, the crowd clapped and shouted for more. There was a low murmur of a “Seven Nation Army” chant but it dissipated into more cheering.

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Finally coming out for an encore and to a huge ovation, they started with the instrumental “High Ball Stepper.” It was a psychedelic-rock jam, which was heavy on distortion and frantic movements from the band.

The reworked version of The Dead Weather song “I Cut Like a Buffalo” didn’t quite have the same oomph that the Dead Weather live version has, but it still has the equally enjoyable funky groove.

The classic “Hello Operator,” off their second album De Stijl, allowed Jack to further showcase his penchant for electric blues licks. Sonic bliss.

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The last portion of the encore slowed things down considerably. It was either exhaustion on the part of Jack White or a means to cool down Chicago from the incredible amount of energy provided from the band. The acoustic ending allowed everyone to take a breath and sing along as Jack began fingerpicking  “We’re Going to Be Friends.”

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As Jack ended the night with “Blunderbuss” and, the Leadbelly cover, “Goodnight Irene” the crowd was saddened it had to end. It was indeed time to say goodnight to Jack White. Fantastic night of music.

Until next time…

 

 

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PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL – UNION PARK – CHICAGO, IL – 7-20-2014 (DAY THREE)

Last day of the festival. Bittersweet moment at any music festival. The wedding I attended the night before did not exactly leave me in a proper state of hydration (my own doing). But as I dragged myself along the entrance of Union Park one last time, my incredible thirst for water led me to finally bite the bullet and buy some $1 water bottles from the respectful sellers near the main gate. Needless to say, I bought three water bottles and pulled a Chevy Chase:

All three gone in a few minutes. And this was before I got my ticket scanned to get inside. I was ready:

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East-coast band Speedy Ortiz played their melodic alt-rock during a cloudy start to day three. Recently releasing their new EP Real Hair, the band saw a refreshed looking crowd nod their heads throughout their set, especially when the sound of heavy distortion launched from their speakers.

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Mutual Benefit’s soothing chamber/indie pop was the other band to start out day three. The band did well during the opening set, as the crowd gathered around to hear their layered and mellow songs.

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Indie-rock band DIIV (pronounced “dive”) showcased their reverb-dense sound to a very receptive crowd. It was an easy-going set that established the mood for the opening part of the festival. DIIV is coming off their latest (and well received) debut studio album Oshin,and a yet unnamed new album coming out sometime this year.

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I honestly cannot express how much I enjoyed Perfect Pussy (and yes, that’s the name of their band). Please listen to this band. Lo-fi punk never sounded so good. Recently releasing their debut studio album, Say Yes to Love, Perfect Pussy electrified the crowd with their brand of unabashed energetic fury. Lead singer, Meredith Graves, never seemed to stop jumping up and down (just amazing cardio)! They just blew me away and were by far one of the best sets I caught this weekend. I cannot wait to see them again.

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The shoe-gaze metal band Deafheaven possibly brought out the most rabid crowd from the entire weekend as their set started with a swirling mosh pit in front of the stage. I was afraid, lead singer, George Clarke was going to pass out from singing so loudly. The jangling guitars and excellent rhythm section drew some high marks from me.

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The massively acclaimed, LA rapper, Earl Sweatshirt had the entire crowd swaying and head bobbing as he unleashed his smooth lyrics to a cheerful crowd. The truth is, Earl Sweatshirt is just a fun person to listen to, and his interactions with the crowd only reciprocated the good vibes between everyone.

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The indie-pop band, Dum Dum Girls, played a dreamy-pop set that relayed a reserved-yet-energetic vibe? (I know oxymoron…feel free to write me an angry letter). But those tinges of new wave definitely got the crowd tapping right along.

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Yes, there was definitely a smell of marijuana in the air, but you really couldn’t have it any other way when Schoolboy Q hit the stage. Once “Collard Greens” starting playing it was pretty much a free-for-all.

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Fun. That’s really the only way to describe Grimes, the synth-pop and just…overall talented artist. She brought the crowd to an incandescent mood. Plus, her two dancers nearly stole the show away from her. Theatrical but brimming with honest energy, Grimes proved to be more than capable of commanding the huge crowd in front of her. Her hit song “Genesis” drew the highest screams. As she continued to shuffle between the mike stand in front of the stage and her keyboard, the smile on her face never seemed to fade away, which naturally transferred to the crowd.

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Kendrick Lamar, arguably the hottest rapper in the world right now, headlined Pitchfork to a massive crowd. The guy is simply a superstar now. With hands waving in the air as far as the eye could see, Kendrick orchestrated the crowd like a seasoned pro. Still basking from the universally revered good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick is planning to release a new album later this year.

Before I go…pants of the festival go this this guy (well done, sir):

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Overall…I would rate Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 a success by all accounts.

I’m still saddened that I missed St. Vincent, but hopefully I’ll get to see her in Chicago soon.

Well, Geoffrey Chaucer once recounted that there’s indeed an end to everything, even the good things:

At least until the next concert…see ya’ then.

Pitchfork Music Festival – Union Park – Chicago, IL – 7-19-2014 (Day Two)

Dia dos. As I began the cross the street onto Ogden Ave, the faint buzz of bass could be felt underneath my worn out pair of Adidas. Another gorgeous day in the city of Chicago welcomed another throng of music fans at Union Park. My legs were weaker compared to Day One, but I was ready to keep the good vibes going. The prospect of a nice cold beer in my hand also provided me brief motivation (and that’s mainly because of you Goose Island…you serve some damn fine beer).

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First up was Chicago’s own Twin Peaks who brought on their youthful energy into every song they played. But more importantly…they actually did rock. Between the crowd surfing and a smashed guitar being thrown into the crowd (no one got hurt, by the way), Twin Peaks couldn’t have started the day any better.

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Brooklyn rapper, Ka, brought his DIY mentality and poignant lyrics to a contemplative crowd. Briefly talking about how his love-hate relationship with summer, due to losing some people he knew back home, his message was certainly applicable to Chicago’s serious problem with violence. I suppose there’s always room for rumination, even at a music festival.

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First cello and clarinet sighting at Pitchfork?

Circulatory System brought their psychedelic rock to a receptive crowd. As wafts of smoke raised up in the air, the diverse range of instruments created sounds not usually reserved at music festivals. It sounded weird and heavy so pulling that sound off was impressive.

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UK band, Wild Beasts played to an adoring fan base as the band played a fair portion from their critically acclaimed new album Present Tense. Lead singer Hayden Thorpe quipped that they were not use to the sunshine or the beautiful people (since they’re from England). Way to make Chicago blush Wild Beast. Also, thumbs up on the use of a violin bow by guitarist Ben Little (I’m happy to see it continue).

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The synth-heavy beats coupled with Lorely Rodriguez’s dreamy-pop vocals encompasses her solo project Empress Of. Her crooning voice brought many smiles and plenty of interpretive dancing.

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Cloud Nothings played a high energy set as they blasted their brand of punk rock to a willing and able crowd. It was also appropriate to realize there were no clouds in the the sky as they began playing.

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Five or four keyboards in front of him?

Mas Ysa looked to be exhausted as he put all his energy into his EDM-driven set.

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Pusha T had a fashionably late start, which the crowd eventually forgave as they began to rap along to his uptempo set. The biggest pop from the crowd came from his Kanye West collaboration “Mercy.”

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tUnE-yArDs (that’s cap sensitive by the way) set was just…weird frenetic fun. The amount of sequins worn was also notably impressive. World beats blended with electronica flares couldn’t have sounded better on a Saturday afternoon. It was definitely one of the best sets, atmospherically, of the weekend.

Alas, readers…I had to attend a wedding shortly after the tUnE-yArDs’ set. So, St. Vincent (if you can read these) please come back to Chicago soon! No Danny Brown or Neutral Milk Hotel recaps either, unfortunately.

Stay tune for day three and my final impressions of the Pitchfork Music Festival weekend.

Pitchfork Music Festival – Union Park – Chicago, IL – 7-18-2014 (Day One)

Well, the wait is finally over. Music festival season has officially started in Chicago. Pitchfork Music Festival arguably provides one of the most eclectic lineups out of the four major music festivals in the city. And yes, inevitably you’ll probably hear, “Who are these guys?” But, that’s the beauty of these festivals, you get to hear bands that you would normally would never get the chance to see or hear.

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Day one started a little frantic as I was running late for the festival. Greeted by long lines to enter the park, I could hear the faint voice of Sharon Van Etten saying hello to a jubilant Pitchfork crowd. It luckily didn’t take long before I was able to get in. As soon as my nostrils took a whiff of sativa in the breezy air I knew I was officially at a music festival.

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Sharon Van Etten, supporting her new album Are We There, played a fantastic set with the backdrop of perfect weather to warm up the crowd. Bouncing from folk, country, and some heavy power chords, Sharon realistically got everyone’s attention with her stirring smoky voice. The majority in the crowd were tapping their feet and bobbing their heads right along to her folksy set. Still, the biggest cheer came during the heavy and melodic “Serpents” off her critically acclaimed album Tramp. Great set.

The Beer:

As an aside, in order to get “beverages” at Pitchfork…please have your 2048 game app and plenty of patience because you’re going to wait in line for a long time.

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Now, don’t let the picture above fool you (there were four lines somewhere inside this picture). I was a mile away from the “beverage ticket” stand (well, sort of). And make sure you get in the proper line since there’s a cash only and credit only line. People were waiting in line so long that when they finally got to purchase tickets they were waking away with wheelbarrows full of them (trying to avoid any more standing-in-line blues for the rest of the weekend). After that you have to stand in line to get a wristband, which finally gives you the privilege of standing in line for a beer (Franz Kafka would be proud to see this well-oiled machine run).

But once that fun ended, Pitchfork sponsor Goose Island provided some excellent beer to the festivities.

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Nearly every hour, Goose Island taps a new keg for the beer drinking masses to consume. The Sharon Van Etten collaborated Kölsch style beer, aptly named (SVE), was also phenomenal. Thumbs up on this Pitchfork. Well done.

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Finally, we have 312 and the always solid Green Line beer was being sold by the stages.

Continuing on:

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Sza, part of Kendrick Lamar’s growing posse, played an ultra mellow set that was more than fine with the crowd. Sza showed off her soulful voice and the crowd swayed right along with her.

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Meanwhile, Sun Kil Moon played on a sun-drenched stage to a responsive but respectful crowd. As waves of reverb overtook their song “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same,” the names of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones made me instantly think of those interesting fantasy sequences.

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Giorgio Moroder, one of the founding fathers of EDM, DJ’d a heavy set of Donna Summer songs, which most people definitely grooved along to.

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He nicely ended his set with Blondie’s “Call Me” to prep up the crowd for:

Beck!

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What can really be said about Beck that already hasn’t? The guy is eclectic and he constantly outputs good music. But talk about a lively set…Beck and his band were in perpetual motion. Jumping, diving, running into each other, falling down, the pace was frenetic to start as they opened up with “Devil’s Haircut.”

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Familiar tape in Chicago.

The band mellowed things down a bit with Beck’s more emotive songs at the halfway point. “Blue Moon,” off the new album Morning Phase, sounded powerful live, but they kicked everyone back into gear towards the end with “E-Pro” from Beck’s Guero album.

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They capped off the show with “Where It’s At?,” which quickly became a perfect crowd sing-along sign-off to cap off a gorgeous night of weather and music.

Day Two coming shortly.

White Stripes at the Auditorium Theatre – How Many Years Ago? – Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

After years and years of queuing up outside the doors of many of Chicago’s unique concert venues, I always pause and reflect on an unforgettable night back in August of 2005. After finding an unofficial recording of this show, I felt as if I was transported back in time:

One could say life was easier back then…Facebook had yet to consume everyone’s lives and everyone on Myspace was still strategically arranging their “top friends” list (it’s a give and take, I suppose).

Still, the nostalgia of August 2005 will always hold soft spot in my heart because The White Stripes invaded the Auditorium Theatre for three faithful nights. Jack and Meg were musical conquistadors brandishing an Airline guitar and Vater drumsticks, respectively, ready to unleash their sonic onslaught to the masses.

The White Stripes where, at the time, touring to support their new album Get Behind Me Satan. The album was a critical and commercial success for the band and a record that still sounds fresh nearly ten years since its release. I mean…how could you still not headbang to “Blue Orchid” when you hear Jack play those first few power chords? And how could one not tap along to Meg’s opening drumbeat on “My Doorbell”? Jack and Meg could virtually do no wrong.

But, August 30, 2005…I was working a minimum wage job that afforded me a ticket to at least attend one of their three blistering shows at the Auditorium. Looking back on it, I probably should have either (1) sold some blood or (2) sold some white tube socks on a Stevenson’s expressway exit ramp in order to make it to the other two shows. But…the past is in the past.

The build up to this concert was immense for me. White Blood Cells and their seminal album Elephant were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Their self-titled debut album and their second studio album De Stijl only rounded up the band’s already impressive song catalog.

As I made my way into the building, I honestly did a double take when I first stepped into the Auditorium Theatre. The White Stripes are playing here? This was the band that played the Metro and the Aragon Ballroom prior to this. Little did I know that the Auditorium Theatre is arguably one of the best acoustics venues in the city (and no it’s not the Congress Theater R.I.P).

The lobby was dotted with peppermint dressed girls and a few bowler wearing gents, a style motif that the White Stripes successfully made their own. In fact, I’m nearly positive I was wearing some type of combination of black and red.

But I did pause for a second to appreciate the amazing architecture inside the Auditorium Theatre. I was glad to see that our seats were not too far away from the stage at all. The opening band that night was none other than the Greenhornes, which would feature future Racounters members, bassist, “Little” Jack Lawrence and, drummer, Patrick Keeler (Brendan Benson, another Jack White ally and Racounter, would open up for the band the last night of the residency). Along with lead singer, Craig Fox, the Greenhornes played a blistering set of psychedelic garage rock that made you think they were reincarnated Yardbird members. I was already impressed. An opening band that didn’t suck…great choice White Stripes.

After the Greenhornes finished their set, the White Stripes black and red “Garden of Eden” backdrop became readily apparent to everyone in the crowd. Holy crap! The White Stripes are next!

After some restless chants from the crowd, the lights dimmed and Jack White strolled out on stage, in his then, tortured-mariachi regalia, while Meg sauntered over to her Ludwig drum set. The crowd roared. I sat somewhere near the soundboard and couldn’t help but feel the hair on my arms stand up. The Auditorium Theatre was the conduit for Jack and Meg’s electric presence on stage.

As Jack tore into the first notes of “Let’s Shake Hands” the night became a battle of their unmitigated energy versus my ability to keep up with the Stripes.

“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” steamrolled the crowd into a bigger headbanging fury as the Stripes kept the show at a hundred mile-per-hour rate. Before everyone knew it, “Blue Orchid” was blasting through Jack’s amps.

Giving the crowd a chance to catch their breath, they played a stirring rendition of the Dolly Parton cover “Jolene.” (Keep in mind the following clips were not from the August 30 – camera phones weren’t as ubiquitous or as technically advanced as they are today)

The highlight of the show was Jack White’s slide guitar showcase, the Son House cover, “Death Letter.” A song that methodically blends Delta blues with a metal groove received the longest applaud from me that night (if I could’ve clapped with my feet at the same time, I would have).

Meg White taking over on vocals for “In the Cold, Cold Night” possibly got one of the biggest ovations of the night. She got up from her drum stool and slowly approached the microphone, covering one ear, trying to stay in tune, and began to sing to a sold out Auditorium Theatre.

Jack White continued with the rare treat of “Black Jack Davey” to start winding down their set. Before I knew it, the band was taking a bow and the entire Auditorium was asking for more.

The encore itself would have been worth the price of admission on its own. “My Doorbell” was followed by the frenetic French-tinged “Lafayette Blues” and the Zeppelin-esque “Ball and Biscuit.” And say what you will about “Seven Nation Army” (now depicted more commonly as a stadium chant), hearing it live for the first time cemented my love for the band.

I was in complete amazement. How the hell can a two piece band sound so damn loud and produce so much energy? (Semi-rhetorical question aside), the truth is they kept it simple and amplified it to the max. Who knows if I’ll ever have more enjoyment seeing a live concert, I just know that the Stripes conquered the rock world that night and I’m glad I was a part of it.

 Auditorium Theatre