John Talabot (Live) and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-18

If you looked up “classic Smart Bar night” in the imaginary Encyclopedia of Awesomeness, you would find a picture of this show. This is what makes Smart Bar the best club in Chicago. They book a rising star in electronic music — but not the kind of stuff bound for arenas, the more esoteric & subtle stuff — and place them in between two sets from Chicago’s not-so-secret weapon Orchard Lounge. Smart Bar already has the most laidback club environment, as well as the most perfectly balanced sound system, so when a perfect booking collides with these things at top speed, it’s one of the peak live music experiences anyone can ever have in Chicago.

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-4

In 2009, Resident Advisor published a fantastic article titled The Esoteric Art of the Opening DJ, which could have also been titled Why Orchard Lounge is Fucking Amazing. There’s one piece that particularly hit the nail on the head in regards to OL: “The best openers are in many ways the people who are true music lovers, the ones who obsessively collect obscure and eclectic music for the simple joy of it. These DJs know their music so well they intuitively know there is a right track to play in each moment for any audience.” But Orchard Lounge goes one step further than that. Not only are they masters of the dancefloor flow, they always perfectly set the mood for whomever they’re opening for.

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-41

They could open for anyone from the biggest, arena-packing names in EDM, all the way to the other end of the spectrum to someone with the underground presence of John Talabot. They have an innate ability to read an audience and get them dancing no matter who is following them. OL spun their usual exciting rollercoaster for the majority of the time. As always their set ranged through the realms of house, nu disco, and deep house, always keeping a palpable fluidity in the air. But towards the end they started to slow it down a bit, bring in some darker energy, and essentially sidle up next to Talabot’s range of sound. This is what I mean when I say they perfectly set the mood; they’re such music freaks, and know who they’re opening for so well, that they know exactly how to segue into the main act. And they also know how to play until the lights come up, keeping the energy lifted all the way to morning. It’s awesome to think that living in Chicago allows us to see OL like a dozen times a year. Easily one of the best parts about living here.

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-22

And with the stage set with an artisan’s touch, John Talabot and Pional played an amazing set to a packed house. There was a surprising level of excitement in the room. Smart Bar was, dare I say, raging. And John Talabot isn’t even really raging music. Sure, he released one of 2012’s unquestioned albums of the year. But it’s a more cerebral brand of music, an unclassifiable branch most near the unnecessarily snobbish ‘intelligent dance music (IDM)’ genre. Needless to say, this isn’t exactly fist-pumping arena music, yet, there was a fire in the crowd that was absolutely infectious. There are few things as beautiful as an overflow of human excitement in a live music setting… this moment fits the bill. This was a great crowd to be a part of, and one hell of a fantastic display of electronic music live production.

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I’ve seen a lot of electronic shows, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a diverse array of musical gadgets in one spot. It looked like there was one of every device. Synths, percussion pads, cymbals & other perc instruments, samplers, computers, sequencers, and a Kaossilator pad to boot. It was quite impressive — their setup was so large they had to place a table to the right of the DJ booth to accomodate all the toys. But even more impressive was how they utilized all this stuff to seamlessly create all the intricate album work in the live setting.

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-31

This is what continues to drive my obsession with live electronic music: when an artist is able to put all the complexity of their studio work together on the fly while playing various instruments the whole time. Yeah, they were pushing buttons alright, every one of those weird screams & strange noises on the album was programmed individually onto a little sampler that Talabot manipulated at the perfect timing to reproduce the album cut. Or he’d dial up a fuzzy wave of sound and wash it across the crowd with a swipe of his finger on the Kaoss pad. The whole production was just a masterful display of control over this bank of esoteric circuitry, which is especially impressive because this is Talabot’s first ever tour playing on his live setup. It’s not hard to envision his next show in Chicago upstairs in the big room at Metro, following in the recent pattern of the similarly brilliant Nico Jaar.

John Talabot and Orchard Lounge at Smart Bar-8

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Jeremy Frazier is the editor-in-chief of Soundfuse.