Suwannee Hulaween 2014


[Words and photos by Adam Taylor]

The String Cheese Incident’s Suwannee Hulaween, which just celebrated the second year of its reincarnation after a few year hiatus, is held at one of the most beautiful and enchanting outdoor music parks in the country, The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (SOSMP). The home of festivals such as Wanee, Bear Creek, Aura, and The Purple Hatter’s Ball has a stunning landscape, with a mixture of grassy clearings spread out amongst a dense forest full of gargantuan Live Oak trees. The winding trails, and Spanish Moss draped over the trees, amplify the connection to nature you feel in this place, making the venue as central a piece of the festival experience as any of the music performed or friends made. Taking place over Halloween weekend, from October 30th through November 2nd in the wilderness of Northern Florida,  Suwannee Hulaween features an incredible seven sets of Cheese – three on Halloween night including a special theatrical cover set as well as two each other evening – in addition to a stellar, impeccably selected lineup of other acts, both in headliners and artists lower on the bill. Some of these included Beats Antique, Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams & Friends, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Shpongle, Thievery Corporation, Kung Fu, and Big Gigantic.

Photo by Josh Timmermans
Photo by Josh Timmermans




Festival Experience

Aside from the non-stop music heard throughout the grounds, whether that be from a campsite, car stereo, or one of the stages, and the beautiful natural setting you find yourself immersed in, the weekend is non-stop stimulation.  Everywhere you turn, there is something competing for your attention: live artists, wildly dressed performers or crazy costumed fans .  From the Spirit Lake, which offers some incredible visual imagery, which even further transforms the landscape when the sun goes down, to simply walking around to check out how people have set up and Cheesified their campsites with spider webs, tapestries, inflatable furniture, light projections and more, there isn’t a dull moment, even when there are no artists performing on-stage. Even in while immersed in live music, the madness onstage can’t keep you from looking around at the effects of the lights on the mythical looking Oak trees, wandering over to the the live artists, or being drawn in by the hoopers, some in large groups, in total synchrony.

My journey to The Spirit of Suwannee involved planes, trains, and automobiles and began with waking up before the crack of dawn to catch the first flight out of Chicago to Atlanta. I rendezvoused with my crew of ATLiens before our road trip down to Live Oak, loading up on snacks and food at everyone’s favorite Wal-Mart in lovely Valdosta, GA. Seriously, after a 5-hour car ride with the promise of 7 sets of Cheese at the end of the tunnel, this South Georgia mecca of commerce felt like being in an episode of South Park.  We finally pulled into the park at dusk Thursday night to be greeted by beyond friendly and enthusiastic staff.  Since SOSMP is a park that is literally built for crowds and even more-so for music festivals, entry into the park is smooth and ticket issues, while rare, are quickly resolved.  The grounds are pretty spread out, yet incredibly easy to navigate, with easy to remember landmarks throughout: the Bat House, the Lake, the General Store, the disc golf course, the stables, and so on. One of the most unique parts of attending a festival at SOSMP is that open campfires are not prohibited.  Aside from this being a lifesaver given that the temperature dropped below freezing at night, who doesn’t like sitting around a fire, staring at the flames while reflecting on the face melt you just experienced and sipping on hot bourbon-cider? This goes on-and-on when it comes to things I love about this park, but you definitely get the picture by now.




Thursday Pre-Party:

I’m a huge fan of the festival pre-party, and there was a great line-up of artists set to open the festival on Thursday night at the Amphitheater stage.  With acts like Particle, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Modern Measure, and MZG, the night could have easily been complete.  But the crowd wasn’t through yet, and neither was the music: we were treated to a 2-hour closing set from Electron, the all-star supergroup formed by Marc Brownstein, which also includes Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, Mike Greenfield of Lotus, and Tom Hamilton of Brothers Past.  This was truly the highlight of the night for me. Brownie & Co. played to the energy in the crowd on this one, catering to emotions of excitement and gratification with everyone in attendance having made the journey from near and far to make the most of their Halloween weekend.  I feel like the set-list was also very well thought out, a sprinkling of DB tracks including ‘Home Again’ and ‘Confrontation’ and later a mesmerizing cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ to warm up the crowd on an extraordinarily chilly night in North Florida.

Bonus: Camping in the area behind the main stage, as we journeyed back from Electron, the SCI production team was testing the lighting rig for the nights ahead…sweet.



Friday, October 31st

Friday, October 31st, Halloween Day, was one of the most picturesque days for camping and listening to music outside I’ve lived to experience.  Slightly cool weather, but warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky – wary, but anxious festival-goers arriving in a steady stream of cars from all over – the knowledge that The String Cheese Incident, who many have not seen in so long, will be taking the stage that night for not one, not two, but three sets.  It was hard to even imagine that besides Cheese being the main course that evening, it was sandwiched between early sets by Greensky Bluegrass and Emancipator and late night sets by Beats Antique and Thievery Corporation, with a palate cleanser in the form of Simon Posford, AKA Shpongle, coming between Cheese sets one and two, as the production team prepared the stage for the special Halloween cover set.




With so many of my favorite artists coming together in one night, in a place tied to so many memories with so many of my close friends, Friday of Hulaween was really one of those days that I felt like it was made for me.  Greensky’s matinee set was only made better by the fact that the band members were dressed as “Perfect Little Angels” – while there might be nothing funnier than seeing 5 grown men dressed up as angels on-stage, those that know Greensky were cracking up at the irony of the group’s costume choice. Emancipator’s set at the Amphitheater stage was something I had long looked forward to.  The past year I have crossed paths with Doug Appling’s musical ventures several times, but this was my first time seeing just violinist Ilya Goldberg and Appling up there without the Ensemble since Hulaween 2013.  He never disappoints, and with the fading sunlight popping through the moss-draped trees onto the transfixed and costumed crowd, I couldn’t help thinking how well planned this scheduling was with SCI coming up next.  Thinking ahead to the genius of Shpongle getting everyone moving for the Afterlife set as darkness creeps in, and to how nuts Beats Antique is going to be in this very location when 8,000 people stagger over after a heavy dose of Cheese.  A wave of excitement washes over me and I know it’s time to put my game face on.



While that was my magical moment of the day, theres is nothing in the world like the first set of Cheese.  While this is not to say that Set Two: The Afterlife wasn’t one of the most ridiculously awesome musical experiences I have ever been a part of – I mean, The String Cheese Incident in elaborate costume playing songs like ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ ‘Live and Let Die,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ and ‘Thriller?’ Plus pyrotechnics, horns, huge blowups skulls, Giant Michael Jackson, and confetti cannons? Pretty sure we’re painting a pretty clear picture here.  And I don’t want to put down any aspect of that third set, continuing the trend of the day, seemingly crafted for yours truly with an explosive rendition of “Rosie,” a personal top-choice, but SCI’s opening set just hit it for me in all the right places.  Something about sunset Cheese, the first of seven sets over the weekend of your favorite band and after such a long wait, truly put me in a state of total joy.  Opening with ‘Restless Wind’ and moving into ‘Joyful Sound,’ ending with ‘Valley of the Jig’ and ‘Can’t Wait Another Day,’ I was in bliss.  This feeling is the best in the world, and especially knowing that that was just one down with six more to go.




Shpongle and Beats Antique, as expected, were in their best form, both with distinct world sounds.  Having attended the Creature Carnival Tour in Chicago a few weeks earlier, featuring Emancipator, Shpongle, and Beats Antique, I knew to expect a lot of theatrics from the latter, yes even more than we usually see from Zoe Jakes,  including a variety of dancers, masked drummers and performers, a giant inflatable Cyclops Kitty, wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube-people, and a hammering of psychedelic, mind bending visuals with Lafa Taylor actings as the ringleader of this midnight circus.  The Bassheads in the crowd definitely got their fix, opening with with Bassnectar’s remix of ‘Rustabout’ and dropping ‘Butterfly’ later in the set. This all after 3 sets of Cheese with still more to come.



Thievery Corporation is always an eye opener, and Rob Garza’s brainchild always seems to entertain no matter the crowd or time of day.  Sticking to the theme of old world and ethnically influenced sound, the crowd arrives at the main stage to see Rob Myers center stage, sitting Indian Style on a couch with his Sitar.  For me, each time I see Thievery, I expect something exciting and different every time, between their middle eastern influence, affinity to acid jazz, and wide array of synthesizers. However one member of the collective I can never seem to take my eyes off of is bassist Ashish Vayas.  This guy, while obviously inexplicably talented as a musician, was simply born to be on stage.  A rowdy individual in his own right, he has a mop of wild long black hair, and as he constantly struts across the stage, he is interacting with all the other performers, making eye contact with members of the audience, energizing the crowd and his bandmates like it’s science.  Thievery played their well-known track ‘Lebanese Blonde’ as most would assume, but what I thought stood out during their set was the amount of reggae performed.  We are all fans of this genre, but for some reason, I feel it is the type of music I get to hear performed live the least for some reason.  After some exploring of the incredible Spirit Lake and a lap around the park, it was time to set up the campfire and make some much deserved grilled cheese sandwiches.




Saturday, November 1st

While Friday was an epic marathon while at the same time felt surreal, the music lineup on Saturday was nothing short of stellar.  The temperature dropping significantly from the day before, with early afternoon sets by Bear Toe and Strung Like a Horse, and performances by Cope, The Heavy Pets, Nahko & Medicine for the People, and The Suwannee Bluegrass Surprise, Keller Williams, all coming before 6 pm, this was a day chock full of feel good sounds and rock & roll.  A celebratory feel was in the air as well, The Heavy Pets playing their 1,000th show ever, a huge milestone in quite a special setting. A personal highlight of the afternoon included seeing the Tampa-based jammers, Cope, for the first time with a unique sound that’s easy to get lost in.  The crowd was feeling it as well and it became an all out dance party.  There was certainly no disappointment in getting to see the Suwannee Bluegrass Surprise, Keller Williams, who opened with ‘Kidney in a Cooler’ and played a great rendition of ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ a great warm up for the main act of the night.



Cheese killed it as always, with the first set featuring Keller Willams and Nicky Sanders in addition to songs like ‘Search,’ ‘Lost,’ and personal favorite knee-slapper, ‘Resume Man.’  The second set was even more of a journey, opening with ‘Let’s Go Outside’ and ‘Black Clouds,’ and getting more intense and hyper-sensory with ‘Sirens,’ ‘Live Oak Jam,’ and ‘ Rivertrance’ before a ‘BollyMunster’ encore.  How can you not be utterly out of breath after this? After taking this all in and letting my jaw rest on the floor for a while, it’s back to the Amphitheater stage for The New Deal, which is a nice little break before heading to either The Spirit Lake stage or Main Stage for Kung Fu or Big Gigantic respectively.  One of the few overlapping set-times of the weekend, I am still impressed by the planning and organization that went into this scheduling – Big G and Kung Fu attract very different factions from within Cheesehead Nation, so I don’t think this decision was very hard for anyone.  Big Gigantic played the same set they’ve played the 3 times I’ve seen them in the last 6 months, but it was nonetheless a huge party and everybody there had a blast, myself included.  Kung Fu on the other hand, was one of the most exciting sets of the weekend – I very much regret missing the first half of Kung Fu to catch a little Big G.




And although Kung Fu absolutely blew my mind with so much craziness coming off that tiny stage, one set in particular stood out distinctly on Saturday and forever won my fandom: Conspirator.  I’ve always been a fan of Brownie, and I have long been a supporter of side projects, which allow artists to explore certain elements of the musical spectrum that may not be as acceptable to a widespread fanbase.  However,in the handful of times I’ve seen Conspirator, I have been left less than impressed and wanting more.  In previous experiences, either the sound was mixed poorly, the artists on stage did not have seem to have good chemistry, or the track selection felt simply monotonous and dull.  But this late afternoon timeslot, preceding the second night of an onslaught of Cheese as described above, was one of the high points of the festival for me.  The sound was mixed to perfection for this set, with the bass physically moving the crowd, but not in excess.  The synths and slight intricacies of the performance were heard loud and clear, and the lighting effects were the perfect compliment to the diminishing natural light disappearing through the trees.  Combine this with Dominic Lalli as well as drummer Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic joining Conspirator on stage…game, set, match.  This brings up another one of my favorite elements of Hulaween, in that since it is a festival put on largely by The String Cheese Incident, you end up with artists who have a lot of history with one another, who are good friends, and have experience collaborating and improvising, both in a live setting and in a studio.  It gives the festival a vibe which shrinks the disparity between artist and fan, and making all in attendance feel a personal connection to the acts and brings the musicians down a notch from the celebrity treatment one might see at a massive, more commercialized fest.  For example, just minutes after finishing up Cheese set number 2 on Saturday night, percussionist Jason Hann could be seen throughout the park chatting with fans, taking selfies those who dared to ask, and taking in the magic at Spirit Lake.





Sunday, November 2nd

The final day of the festival is always a little different in knowing that you have one more day to get your fill before leaving fantasyland for the real world.  The weather was cool and sunny, and Ghost Owl opened up the day before a beautiful set by Rising Appalachia, a quickly up-and-coming act led by sisters Chloe and Leah Smith.  Their music is a mixture of folk and soul, and they employ a variety of different world instruments, creating an incredibly unique sound.  This show was one the most impactful of the entire weekend, completely unexpected and moving.  The crowd was entirely captivated, entranced by the beauty emanating from the stage.  Their set flowed perfectly with songs like ‘Filthy Dirty South’ and ‘Medicine,’ both clear crowd pleasers.


The day-party continued, with Dean Ween rocking out on the Amphitheater stage, getting everyone ready for the final two sets of The String Cheese Incident to come that evening. I’ve said it before, but one of the great things about Cheese is the evolution to what they are capable of now from their bluegrass roots, and it is truly incredible how they craft each set to showcase so many different talents and musical genres, while retaining that distinctive Cheesiness we all fell in love with. This final Incident at Suwannee Hulaween was definitely one to remember, opening up their first set with ‘Sometimes a River,’ and closing with ‘Round the Wheel,’ which hasn’t been played in at least a year.  The second Cheese set was killer as well, everyone in the crowd getting goofy with jam after jam: ‘Song in my Head’ > ‘This Must Be The Place’ > ‘On The Road’ > ‘Bumpin Reel’ > ‘Texas’ (encore).  And though there was more music to come that night, I just kept hoping that they would come back on stage for just one more.  People all over had the same sentiment, evident by the sporadic shouts of one last song requests: “Jellyfish!”, “Little Hands!”, “Lester!”




With Cheese having ended, I was really looking forward to the rest of the evening, although slightly bummed about another one of the few set conflicts that weekend.  This time it was between EOTO on the Main Stage and Van Ghost at Spirit Lake, before the festival finale down at the good old Amphitheater Stage with our friends Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.  I knew I would be splitting time between both, but opted to stick around for EOTO first.  Unfortunately there were some hiccups getting Travis and Jason’s equipment working correctly and this delayed their start time a bit. Despite this, Hann was all smiles and the duo dropped serious some seriously freaky noises on the crowd.  It was definitely the crunch I was looking for all weekend, although I really was hoping they brought their lasers!  Oh well…no complaints from me – it was a fantastic display of musical talent, and a snapshot of what it really means to play to a crowd.  By the time I could peel myself away from EOTO to head to Van Ghost, there was just a little bit of time left in their set.  But I am really glad I made it for a few songs because Michael Harrison Berg was tearing it up on that packed in stage with our girl Jennifer Hartswick.  After this ended, all bodies converged upon the Amphitheater one last time for Joe Russo.  Man do I love these guys: there really is no music that brings about nostalgia like the Dead and I always cherish every note when I get to hear Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Closing out the festival, I saw several moments within the set when groups of people huddled together for group hugs, rows of the crowd putting all their arms around one another while swaying to the music, and so many happy couples.  Just so much love and happiness and good feelings set to an amazing soundtrack. A part of the night I will never forget is their rendition of ‘Uncle John’s Band,’ which hits a sweet spot for me, in that way that cannot even be described in words.  From there they went into a crazy jam on ‘No Quarter’ then back into ‘Uncle John’s Band’ with ‘Franklin’s Tower’ to shut it down. It was a spectacular way to end the festival and the creatures of Suwannee Hulaween were in no way left unsatisfied.





Biggest Musical Surprise

While Conspirator, Electron, Rising Appalachia, and Kung Fu were definitely some of the highlights of my weekend (aside from Cheese of course), there was a very special set played in the park that only those in proximity were lucky enough to experience.  With SOSMP so well equipped for large crowds and built for heavy duty camping, there are electrical hookups and water spouts at just every few yards in certain parts of the park.  Sitting around our fire listening to music in the wee hours of Halloween night, we start to hear some very powerful blues/folk rock coming from somewhere close by.  As a group of us grab our headlamps and venture out into the dark towards the sound, we come upon an impromptu concert, with 4 or 5 musicians playing, instruments loud and deep, hooked up to amplifiers, and a projector emitting bizarre visual imagery onto a screen and the trees surrounding the camp.  A crowd of 50 or so had gathered, huddled up to keep warm and sitting on the ground and the music was mysterious and beautiful.  The band, who we later found out was Bear Toe, had opted to camp with the fans instead of in the artist area or in a cabin and really connected with their crowd that night.  Scheduled to perform on Saturday at the Spirit Lake Stage, I really appreciated them having treated our little community to some bonus tunes.  There was something incredibly organic about this experience, and I can only hope to have more similar opportunities like this in the future.  Hats off to Bear Toe: certified.



Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake, an adventure for the senses in 2013, was much improved and way more immersive this year.  From mystifying light projections, art installations, to the legendary Jelly Swing, you could entertain yourself forever in there.  The landscape morphed throughout the weekend with artists adding to it each day.  And with the Spirit Lake Stage right there, you could still enjoy late night live music while exploring all the different areas of the setup.  Many took refuge near the 20-foot tall Infinite Infant, famous from Burning Man which warmed all those gathered nearby with its frequent, and rhythmically released flames.  My favorite part of the Spirit Lake area this year was what was called the ‘Sonic Forest.’ In here, as you walk through a grid of metal poles, sounds are emitted from behind, in front, and to the sides of you.  It really confuses the senses, and you become utterly disoriented, trying to stay focused on where you are going.  The lights being projected onto the trees at Spirit Lake, most visible from across the water from the art installations, were mesmerizing as well, a perfect fusion of technology and nature.  Another breathtaking installment is tough to describe in words, but my best summary would be projections overlapping on paintings, to make these pieces of art seem almost lifelike.  I was very pleased with what the Spirit Lake experience had to offer this year, and hope that it continues to build upon itself as a Hulaween in the Swamp tradition.


Photo by Josh Timmermans
Photo by Josh Timmermans

Let’s be honest.  No one goes to a music festival and has a bad time.  But there are those special weekends, when everything just seems to align perfectly.  A Halloween camping festival, located at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, featuring The String Cheese Incident for seven whole sets: this is the type of festival where you leave feeling fulfilled and that by having now attended, it would be a travesty to miss one in the future.  I for one had the time of my life at Suwannee Hulaween 2014, made so many new friends and reconnected with so many others.  Growing up in Atlanta, the southern scene is one that I feel very comfortable with. Going to festivals in the south just has a slightly higher degree of laid-back, no rush, kind of vibe.  A goal I have set for my future self is to spend as many music weekends at SOSMP as possible, but I can wholeheartedly guarantee my attendance at Hulaween 2015.  See you in the Swamp!





Commentary: Run The Jewels at Metro

[Photos by Jon Pliske]

"The people made us a rap group"
“The people made us a rap group”

It’s hard to write an objective show review about a group that you really like. Especially when you’ve seen them four times. Especially when their modus operandi is “fuckboys beware” and they have a side project called Meow the Jewels.  Especially when they are Killer Mike and El P.


Are you guys okay if I forgo a set list and a metaphorical description of the energy of the crowd from that night at the Metro?

The show ruled, they played all of the songs you would want them to play, I love the Metro, and Run the Jewels might be my favorite hip hop act on the planet right now.


Alright? Cool? I think we have some more important things to get to.

Okay. Last week a Grand Jury refused to indict an NYPD officer for choking a man to death. Eric Garner. The craziest thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. I won’t get into the laundry list of “reasons why living in America right now is fucking terrifying.”

In this country of ours, you can murder someone *on film* and get away with it. It’s crazy. It’s… wrong. It’s inhumane. It’s evil.

This has what to do with Run the Jewels? Well, everything. Hip hop and societal anxiety surrounding the issue of race/gender/poverty are intrinsically tied to one another. There has always been tension between institutionalized racism (police brutality, mandatory sentencing etc.) and Hip Hop music.

From Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to Public Enemy’s Fear of Black Planet; from Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool to Ice T’s early stuff, et al. So called “conscious” Hip Hop — Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Cunninglynguists, just to name a few. These are all artists who have used their talent to voice dissent against a system that has refused to include them. I am not just talking about being black, or being white, or whatever else. I am talking about being powerless in a society that doesn’t care about you or your future.  (My friend Ben made a good point here- what about Punk Rock and Henry Rollins et al? Punk Rock was around saying “fuck you” to the system and sticking safety pins through it’s ears while Hip Hop was still a glimmer in Soul music’s eye… but perhaps Punk doesn’t have the same relationship with race/class issues that hip hop does… but that’s for another time).

In the last 15 years it is pretty obvious that Hip Hop has gone away from the fringes of society, out of the hands of the “undesirables” and into the hands of Katy Perry and the people who orchestrated her bionic breasts. Right? Top 40 is fun to dance to and makes money. That is why Taylor swift was given a “ghetto blaster” and Jason Aldean had Ludacris guest spit on a song that I am pretty sure is an extended Chevy Truck commercial. Also, who the fuck is Jason Derulo?

The popular musical landscape is littered with shiny pop music that says little and means even less. Haters gonna hate, and we will shake it off, right?

No. Fuck that.

Fuck all of that.

We need music to do what only it has the power to do. We need it to be a reflection of our humanity. If that reflection truly is One Direction and Ariana Grande… well… I quit.

We need music and more specifically Hip Hop to be an agent of change, and to bring us together, and to make us feel things again.

Rolling Stone just named Run the Jewels 2 as the best Hip Hop album of the year (let’s pretend they didn’t give the album of the year to U2). It is pretty clear. This record released without fanfare or marketing dollars is what we want and what we need because it addresses how precariously balanced we are on the precipice of becoming totally fucked.

Let’s rewind that back for a second. Run the Jewels started as a side projects of sorts. El P had a bunch of stuff he wanted to get into the studio with after Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike happened to jump on some songs. Then some more. Then people told them it was good, and they turned it into an album. El P even said, “The people made us a rap group. We never set out to be one.”

They released RTJ 1 as a free download because they didn’t want to mess with all of the bullshit that comes with pushing a major record release. They wanted to get their music into the hands of the people who wanted to hear it.

Turns out, we wanted to hear it.

We are thirsty for music that has meaning and speaks to our angst. We want and need music that is honest and articulate, music that stands for something and stands up for us. This so called “conscious” Hip Hop can no longer be just the stuff of bleeding heart liberals, academic Hip Hop heads and chatty grad students. Hip Hop is conscious. Hip Hop is consciousness.

We may not be able to dismantle this horribly flawed system on our own. We all got bills to pay and shit to do and dogs to walk and gluten-free manicures to get. But we can lend our voices in dissent. We can start an open dialogue. We can vote and we can be activists in our communities and we can learn from each other and we can be kind. We can support those whose voices speak the truth and reach many. We can get together and listen to good music and go to rap shows and smoke blunts. We can be Jewel Runners. Alright?


Okay Killer Mike and El P, you have our attention. Lead the way, homies.

Umphrey’s McGee’s 2000th Show at Orpheum Theatre in Madison, WI

No matter how you slice it, 2,000 shows is a whole lot of stage time. It’s quite an impressive feat for Umphrey’s McGee to reach 2,000 shows in right around 16 years of playing together. That’s a high average of shows per year for a sustained period of years. There’s no question that they’re one of the hardest working and most dedicated bands in the world, and when you stand back and look at numbers like those, the case is open and shut.

The average career length in the NFL is 3.3 seasons, which seems kinda short at first glance when stars like Peyton Manning seemingly play forever. But when you step back and look at how many third string players come through the league it makes sense. It’s a completely analogous situation with live touring bands… how many bands ever make it to even 500 shows? Or 1,000? You don’t stumble into a 16 year NFL career just like you don’t stumble into a 16 year touring career with over 2,000 shows. If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame knew anything about anything, Umphrey’s McGee would be a no-brainer first ballot selection.

But what about the actual show, man? Well, it was special. It wasn’t one of the best shows in terms of flow/segues or improv, but it’s definitely one I’ll always remember based on the environment and song selection alone. To start with, they picked an amazing place to play this show. As much as it pains me to say it, Wisconsin’s venues shit all over every venue we have in Chicago. I’ve maintained that the Riverside in Milwaukee is my favorite venue to see Umphrey’s, but now it’s got competition with the Orpheum Theatre. This place is everything I want in a venue — great sound, gorgeous design, very clean, clear sightlines, awesome beer selection/prices (mmmm Spotted Cow) and wonderfully relaxed security. If you picked this place up on a flatbed and moved it to Chicago it’d instantly be the best venue in the city. Wisconsin, you guys really know how to music venue.

There were definitely some standout moments of improv, as there is in every single show, night in and night out with this band. But this was definitely a ‘setlist show’ considering the depth of bustouts they unwrapped. The mirror image set-enders “August” and “Slacker” were almost predictable in a way — probably the two oldest regular rotation songs that are nearly universally loved. But they threw huge curveballs in both of them with a single verse uber-bustout of “The Other Side of Things” and “G-Song” in “August” and “Slacker” respectfully. Old beloved songs with even older and more rare jams, complete with absolutely flawless transitions in and out of both jams. Now that’s the business. And know what makes this even better? I don’t think that “G-Song” verse was planned at all — “TOSOT” was on the setlist, but it seemed like Bayliss conjured “G-Song” up himself, on the fly, like a boss. For a song they supposedly would never play again, that was a pretty badass way to give us most likely the last little taste anyone will ever hear.

While it’s not quite rare enough to be considered a bustout, the placement of “Kimble” was one of the true genius moves of the night. Easily one of their most underrated instrumentals, “Kimble” has the potential to be a monster when properly wound up. Since the song itself takes a minute to really get going, smooth segueing to it directly out of the hellfire of “Mulche’s Odyssey” was basically the best way to serve “Kimble.” There was no wind up time necessary, it was like a base-stealer getting the perfect jump on the pitcher’s delivery. It’s little things like this that let us know how detail-oriented this band can be; there’s no way there could be such a dedicated group of nerd-fans who geek out over for hours if the band wasn’t a little bit nerdy about the details themselves.

And how about this for a bustout? Talk about a cover song NOBODY saw coming: out of nowhere mid-first set they dropped Bob Marley’s “Walk The Proud Land,” which hadn’t been played in 12 years, a 1,465 show gap. Awesome bustout choice and and even more awesome cover. With all prog shred filth it’s easy to forget how well they can play some kicked-back reggae. And on the other side of the spectrum, mid-second set they unleashed a brand new cover, which is about as un-reggae as it gets. Not everyone recognized The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” right away, but by the time the chorus washed over the entire crowd was euphoric. Talk about two entirely unpredictable cover choices.

But, at the end of the day, what will stick out to most people as the cornerstone of this monumental show was how fucking hard we got Porch’d. When it comes to over-the-top sentimental classics, it doesn’t get any more beloved than “Front Porch,” and they dropped a proper three-jam, 17-minute Porch on our asses. And thanks to the final of those three improv sections, this song was one of those ‘instant Hall of Fame’ moments. But it didn’t arrive there without some work. The first jam was one of those happy, effervescent things that felt good but didn’t really go anywhere. The second jam was significantly more developed and far more substantial — it unfolded into a rare potent piano-driven piece, with Joel pushing the whole thing while the guitars filled in with poignant wailing harmonics. First a nice jam, then a more emotional jam, it was pretty clear there was only one way to go with the third jam… off the fucking deep end.

And dead sweet lord baby jesus did they go off the deep end. Almost immediately the sound faded to black, with Jake getting ultra weird and Joel kicking in the mind-fucking reverse delay effects on his piano. In a matter of a few seconds the show went from joyous Porching to hurtling backwards through a goddamn black hole. Myers picked up the scattered pieces, brought some order to the chaos and started building. Some crafty perc work from Farag added extra weird dimension to the upswing of jam, and Stasik’s snubnose basstone was the perfect choice to accompany the altogether weirdness of the improv. It was a single ascent jam, but once they reached the summit of this thing it was this insane blues & hip-hop mutant that transitioned smooth as a newborn baby into the final composed segment of “Porch,” and stood mightily on top of the show as the unquestioned improv champion of the night. This “Front Porch” was the stuff \mm/ dreams are made of and it will no doubt garner considerable Hall of Fame 2014 consideration.

It was only fitting Umphrey’s McGee’s 2,000th show featured a gargantuan “Front Porch.” Nobody really actually tries to call a “Front Porch” these days, but after the fact, it felt like there was absolutely no other way for it to happen. It was Porch Destiny.

After 2,000 shows it’s safe to say that 3,000 shows is no longer safe. Long live Umphrey’s McGee.

Amrita and Brothers Rage Halloween at The Sex House

Everybody loves house parties. Hell, you’ve probably been to more of them than you can even remember. Some of us have even unleashed a fire extinguisher upstairs at a frat party and set off the fire alarms and ran out the back door cackling laughing with two full cups of keg beer and people yelling, “Find the guy who did this and kick his ass!!” But that’s neither here nor there. The point is we’ve all been to plenty of house parties, but this was easily one of the best house parties I’ve ever raged.

It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a light design whiz own the house (Pat Riley of Amrita) and deck out the basement with more moving lights than your average small venue show. It also didn’t hurt that it was Halloween and everyone in attendance brought their A-game. Best of all was the awesome crew of people — it was a tight group of friends and absolutely no riff raff. Well, there was a RiFF RAFF, but he sat in with Brothers Rage for a sick cover of “Love Rollercoaster.”

Both bands played fun sets for the loose crowd — not too serious, but every bit of a ‘real’ gig despite being in a basement. Brothers Rage sounded pretty damn good for a band that doesn’t play nearly enough. They were a bit sloppy around the edges — to their credit so was everyone else in the building — but they threw down enough inventive improv to keep everyone engaged. Amrita was the much sharper band, they sounded extremely well-rehearsed as they tore through a laundry list of Halloween-themed covers. Both bands played to the holiday festivities and put on a great show — both Brothers Rage and Amrita are much better than their relatively modest amount of fans would suggest. There’s definitely some badass music underneath the surface in Chicago and these two bands are two of the best.

Otter Presents: Top of the Tower SkyDeck AllStars 2.0

Otter Presents has a notorious reputation for producing events that are on another level. Top of the Tower 2.0 was my first experience at such an exclusive soiree and I must say, it was quite a novelty. Even the logistics of getting to the top of Willis Tower was a spectacle. First your name had to be on “The List” that was guarded by security on the ground floor of the building. Once your identification was verified, they gave you a ticket that allowed you access to the Skydeck. Then you had to pass through another security check point with a metal detector before even getting on the elevators. There were actually two sets of elevators you had to go up, many different hallways, and an escalator ride before you finally made it to the 99th floor at the top of Willis Tower.

What I soon came to realize was just how remarkable it is to concoct such an avant-garde event. The first and most obvious reason is the venue itself. The 99th floor of Willis Tower is square shaped with the elevators and bathrooms in the middle. Therefore, the floor to ceiling windows throughout the whole space made you feel like you were on top of the world. An occasional telescope also helped you inspect the tiny details of the city below. Being here at night presented a completely new perspective of Chicago with its twinkling street lights that grid out neighborhoods as far as the eye could see.

The preparation for this event circulates around the idea: “If you build it, they will come.” While the stage area was set up in the north east corner of the room, speakers were scattered throughout the 99th floor bringing music to every crevice within the space. Ambient blue lighting and low rise leather couches provided a classy lounge-like ambiance. Vendors set up tables throughout selling everything from posters to pins and anyone who brought 10 cans of food to donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository received a special event poster created by TRiPPs. There was also live art by Alicia Post and Ben Laskov as well as a few art instillations to really help bring the uniqueness of the space full circle. But in all reality, this event was all about the music.

The night officially kicked off with an opening set by the Joe Marcinek Band featuring Steve Molitz on keys, Freekbass on bass, and Pete Koopmans on drums. At first I was distracted by the open bar but a Particle song pulled me away from the long drink line, calling me to the stage area like red light above a brothel.

The versatility of Marcinek is something that must be mentioned here. I have seen this musician tear it up quite a few times in the past couple months with an impressive variety of musicians that continually rotate through this band. The special mix of music presented on this particular night showcased just how well Marcinek’s ability to listen can really pull together any group of musicians. The highlight of the set came with a cover of “Fame” by David Bowie. The fact that Bowie is being celebrated at Museum of Contemporary Art just a couple miles away did not go unnoticed by the Chicago crowd and made the whole song feel that much more special. While the first half of the show focused on a dancier jam style, Joe Marcinek original “60 Degrees (in January)” provided a NOLA funk element towards the end of the set that really left it all out there. Freekbass dug into his eccentric style giving us all a taste of what he does best. While Steve Molitz was expressive on his keys, you could tell he was holding back. After all, this musician still had two more sets of music to deliver that night so I am sure he was saving some of his raw energy for the main event.

Before the SkyDeck AllStars began their set there was a rush that filled the room because we all knew a transcendent experience was about to take place. The thing about a one-off super group is that this has never happened before, nor will it ever happen again. Otter hand picked these musicians based on their exceptional talent and then gave them the opportunity to do something that has never been done before. By whipping up a special batch like this, the style and skill of each musician shines through as well as their ability to adapt to what’s in front of them.

This year’s SkyDeck AllStars 2.0 consisted of Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig from the Disco Biscuits, Marcus Rezak of Digital Tape Machine, Mike Greenfield of Lotus, David Murphy of Seven Arrows, and Steve Molitz of Particle. After warming up with a funk jam, the group busted out “Home” by LCD Soundsystem. The cover was long, drawn out, and perfectly executed. This particular choice intrigued the audience as to what would happen next, speculating if there would be any limits within this super jam. Joe Marcinek eventually joined the group and replaced Barber for a cover of “Jan Jan” originally by the great jazz composer Grant Green. By this point in the show I managed to move as close as I could to the band and it was obvious that Marcinek and Resak were trying to outdo each other in a friendly competition of seeing who can arrange a composition on the fly most effectively. It wasn’t long before the duo started creating magical moments as they carried on a dialogue of guitar licks until the song finally hit a magnificent peak of musical bliss.

Barber eventually returned to the stage, showing up full force for DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” threading the musical genius of the Disco Biscuits into any structure that was laid out in front of him. It was within this space that the improvisation began to flow and you could tell these artists enjoyed exploring an unknown territory just as much as we enjoyed witnessing it. They jammed and we danced, wildly. There was no stage, so the crowd was on the same level as the band. You could tell by the look on David Murphy’s face that this was something new to him, but the setup up facilitated a connection between the band and their audience that grew stronger as the night grew long. I could subtly feel myself melting into Murph’s bass line as the he started to get loose. We saw a whole other side to this artist that night, including the obvious addition of vocals (besides his notorious “Wooo!”).

The second set of music kicked off with Talking Heads’ “Cross Eyed and Painless,” a favorite of Chicago music lovers ever since Phish wove the tune in and out of their show at UIC Pavilion back in 2011. But the dance party didn’t really hit its peak again until the super group revisited LCD Soundsystem for a cover of “Pow Pow.” Marcus Rezak’s newest side project is actually an LCD Soundsystem tribute band called North American Scum, so the addition of LCD to the setlist was not a surprise, at least not to me. But what did surprise me was the way this group flawlessly executed a dance-punk style with just enough weird to keep me guessing where they would go next. The night finally came to an end with The Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” and an audience singing along to really hit home the feeling of a collective experience for everyone on the 99th floor.

To sum up Top of the Tower, I would have to say that this was a musical experience that was singular and innovative within today’s live music scene. For someone like me who loves the magic of improvised music, it was the type of event I live for. The swanky atmosphere and unique location were just a bonus to the amazing music that was created at one of the tallest buildings in the world.

This show was very special to me. Chicago, after all, is my hometown and there is a shared love for our music scene that almost makes it feel like a family. When I first started writing about live music, my goal was to try and capture the moments that evoke a feeling of awe. While over the last few years those moments have presented themselves time and time again, Top of the Tower SkyDeck AllStars 2.0 was such a special evening that needs to be shared with the world. Chicago is very fortunate to have Otter Presents bring such a special event to our city. I can’t wait to see what they hook us up with next!

Creature Carnival with Beats Antique, Shpongle and Emancipator at Riviera Theater


[Words by Adrian Gurga | Photos by Adam Taylor & Kyle Miller aka The Saucy Monster]

Halloween season was officially upon us. The fourth night of the aptly named Creature Carnival tour was now in full swing as costumed and face painted music lovers lined up outside the Riviera Theater for a two night run with a stacked lineup including Emancipator, Shpongle, and Beats Antique.

Inviting the audience to participate in the masquerade, a do-it-yourself mask-making craft station was located just inside the entrance. Attendees were given four psychedelic creature mask templates to choose from — squids, rabbits, tigers, or owls — allowing you to choose your own creature and express your creative side. Crayons and hot glue guns were present as well. A friend of mine handed me an “official” Beats Antique fortune card and explained that I must pass the card on to someone else before the end of the night.

The carnival was hosted by Lafa Taylor, an Oakland based MC and producer who started each night off with DJ sets combining a little bit of everything. He played some hiphop and some rap, overlaying 90’s hits with wompy basslines. He added his own vocals on a few songs, singing his own lyrics over Dre’s beats. He played a really funky R&B track and a trap remix of a Biggy tune back to back. “It’s all music,” he explained over the microphone.


Simon Posford of Shpongle took the stage next and electrified the audience with Dorset Perception. His black garb and feathered hat were a familiar sight, but he looked almost naked standing alone on stage without his usual projection mapping rig and DJ booth, Shpongletron. At just under 60 minutes, Simon’s set was more to the point, even a bit rushed and some of the transitions were choppy, but Simon seemed more jovial and carefree than usual, dancing back and forth on stage, puffing on an electronic cigarette, while colorful visuals folded on two large LED screens behind him. The fully packed theater gave an uproarious applause as Simon left the stage and Lafa Taylor returned to introduce Emancipator.


Emancipator took the stage and filled the room with downtempo, hiphop-inspired beats and delicate melodies. Emancipator always plays as a duet with Doug Appling controlling the beats and Ilya Goldberg playing violin and other stringed instruments. They played mostly from their two most recent albums, Dusk To Dawn and Safe In The Steep Cliffs, as well as the usual unreleased remixes of “Ready Or Not” by Fugees and “Halcyon And On And On” by Orbital. They closed their set with an unreleased new track. The crowd responded boisterously and we seemed to forget we’ve only seen the openers. The overall level of inebriation at that point of the night could only be described as “soccer game drunk”.


Beats Antique’s set began with a spotlight as bells chimed a simple melody. It was serious and creepy. Carnival tunes ensued in an explosion of light and sound. Red velvet curtains and an incandescent chandelier provided the stage an appropriately vaudeville-esque setting. Spandex clad dancers with pom poms and sequined top hats took the stage and a four person drumline formed, each drummer wearing one of the four creature masks.

As the night continued Beats cycled through a number of musical styles, using different instruments for each song and playing nearly every percussion instrument imaginable. Middle Eastern and Indian-inspired melodies were followed with heavy, glitchy, beats. One moment the music sounded like Passion Pit and the next it could have easily been Primus. Then Zoe Jakes would come out to flex her belly in a well choreographed routine with a pair of burlesque dancers that looked like they might have come out of the 1920’s. It was musical tribute night, told through the songs of Beats Antique.


Beats’ performance included a number of costumed characters and special effects, particularly inflatable art, which gave their set a theatrical feel. An giant green inflatable cyclops cat took the stage, held at the reigns and writhing like an untamed elephant. Wacky wavy inflatable arm flailing tube men were also used. Even Zoe ballooned to inhuman size in a dress with inflatable bustle, wearing antlers on her head.


They closed their set with Beauty Beats off of the 2008’s Collide and on Saturday the Riv was pretty much packed all the way to the end. Even at 12:50 the place was packed shoulder to shoulder and there was enough sweaty flesh to remind one of summer. A hippie looking chick applied face paint to a well dressed bro in a collared, button down shirt while they waited for the encore — the kind of association you’d only ever see at a concert. An overweight gentleman who sat through most of the set looking rather faced was questioned by security, “I came for Shponple,” he explained and stumbled off unassisted.

Things got especially weird at the very end, Lafa Taylor came back on stage and birthday cake was served to any and all eligible recipients while they blasted Peanut Butter Jelly Time. The self-indulgent celebration went on until a little after 1am and all were invited to Sunday’s show.

The second night was like the first but with much fewer people. A few extra bonuses were offered on Sunday including poi spinners on stilts and a dance routine provided by local talent Hijinx Productions. While the crowd on Sunday was sparse, it was certainly dedicated. Most of them seemed like out-of-towners who only came up for the shows. A couple next to me drove in from Cincinnati just to see Sunday’s show. Sunday’s crowd was also mostly too young to drink, or perhaps just too thrifty. Emancipator played before Shpongle on Sunday, which was a pleasant surprise for everyone, especially since Sunday’s sets were for the most part the same as Saturday’s but with a few exceptions — after all Chicago is basically the only two night run of the tour — but the crowd enjoyed themselves just the same.

While most elements of the shows were spot on, a few aspects fell just short. For one, the house musical selection between performances was just deplorable. Whoever was in charge of track selection played Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros both nights which just sounded fucking weird between Shpongle and Emancipator. The house also played an Emancipator song immediately after Emancipator left the stage, and while I’m no sound engineer I’m pretty sure it’s a faux pas to play one of the bands between set breaks.


A few elements of the performance itself also fell short of plausible. For instance, a volunteer selected from the audience turned out to be the same guy both nights. Likewise, when Jakes took the stage in a leotard carrying a bass drum which wasn’t even mic’d, it sort of reminded you that what you were seeing may actually be closer to professional wrestling than live music — after all professional wrestling is performance art too and most EDM acts could be criticized as “just pressing play.”

That being said, now that Beats has about a half a dozen albums under their belt, they’ve got a lot more music to choose from when constructing a set. While this year’s performance had more energy, it was less about the music and more about pure showmanship compared with previous years’ performances. Saturday night also proved that the trifecta of Beats Antique combined with Emancipator and Shpongle can sell out a medium-sized venue — even on a night when Skrillex is in town — and that festi-heads will flock from far and wide to watch a voluptuous woman bang on a drum and dance with inflatable monsters.



SBTRKT at Riviera Theatre

After riding a lengthy wave of international touring and festival hopping, SBTRKT abruptly jumped off the machine near the end of 2013. At a time when he easily could have kept rolling and raking in cash with sold-out live shows, he did the complete opposite and took time off to focus on creating new material. He ended up staying pretty quiet through Summer festival season this year, only releasing a scattered couple tracks from his latest album Wonder Where We Land, which was officially released in October. This Fall he returned to touring with a completely re-worked live show, a refreshing thing to see amidst a lot of repetition this year.

In the past Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT juggled playing drums while also running live production, while Sampha provided vocals for most songs and played a bit of percussion. But this time around, Jerome passed the drumming duties off to a focused drummer and also had a girl playing synth & percussion along with some vocal work. It felt like he was more in his element: behind a dizzying assortment of electronic music instruments as opposed to behind a drumkit. It was more like his ‘DJ set’ setup, which is still one of the most impressive displays of live electronic music production I’ve ever witnessed. With Jerome behind his cockpit of esoteric lights & dials, the show generally seemed sharper and even more complex than before. Aaron Jerome is an electronic musician, and when someone that talented is in control, there’s no question all those electronics are every bit the instrument that a guitar or saxophone is. Not to mention that he had a handful of synths up there too, for good measure. By focusing his efforts on these electronic instruments he took the SBTRKT live show to new territory.

What really set this show apart from the past was, obviously, the injection of a whole album’s worth of new material. He did a great job of mixing the new into the old, creating a strong sense of never knowing what’s coming next. The new songs sounded bolder than they do on Wonder Where We Land, which was slightly underwhelming compared to his brilliant debut album. Especially the track “NEW DORP, NEW YORK” which sounds flat on the record but completely blew up in the live setting. It was somehow even more sinister and unsettling, with expanded complexity in the low end and skeleton-rattling sub-bass at the lowest point.

Even with all that new energy & material, the best part of this show was the way the old songs were delivered. None of the old tracks came in a form we’ve heard before. They were all tweaked in some way, which is also reminiscent of how he plays other artist’s music in his DJ sets — always refracted through the SBTRKT prism. This aspect of the show really took the novelty of the performance to a new level, it was like he couldn’t replay any cards he’s ever played before. When “Pharoahs” unfruled in the middle of the set, it was almost unrecognizable save for the Roses Gabor vocals. It was a complete re-edit, basically to the point that it was a new song. The rest of the older stuff was also spun in this fashion, but “Pharoahs” was at a ridiculous level of transformation.

This show was such a breath of fresh air after seeing two other major live electronic acts (Chromeo and Disclosure) play essentially identical sets multiple times in one year. Obviously taking the time off to write & re-tool was a genius move on Aaron Jerome’s part. This is exactly the type of thing I love to see from my favorite musicians and he really couldn’t have done a more complete job of creating a brand new live music experience. SBTRKT is now the gold standard for crafting fresh experiences with a live electronic show.

Rubblebucket and Landlady at Metro


[Photos by Jamie Condon]

Rubblebucket. The name alone reflects something that’s been broken into pieces, gathered together, and carried across a mythical land. While contained, these pieces of debris somehow fit together perfectly, yet when separated their structure is too ragged to make any sense whatsoever. Now mix in Halloween, one of the craziest holidays of the year, and things really start to get interesting…

The night began with the all male group, Landlady, dressed as lunch ladies for this special Halloween show. Their outfits consisted of both aprons and hairnets. They covered the creepy 1950’s hit “I Put a Spell on You” while they danced with their spatulas around the small Metro stage. Landlady captures a weird industrial texture with their sound. Band leader Adam Schatz delivers each of the group’s songs with enthusiasm, curiosity, and left field vocals. His bandmates threw hairnets into the crowd as an attempt to get their audience to participate in their costume, to which we happily obliged. This band was very inclusive in their presentation, asking the audience to clap along and move closer to the stage as the set progressed. Schatz then led an “always always always” group chant with members of Rubblebucket during “Above My Ground” to help us all get on the same level. But by the time the song was over, the whole group was crouched down on stage to signal the conclusion of Landlady’s set.


Luckily, it didn’t take long for the main act to take the stage. Rubblebucket opened with a whimsical “Silly Fathers” to get the crowd back in the groove of this Halloween celebration. They then went into “Sound of Erasing” off their newest album, Survival Sounds. This catchy tune moved from silver flutes to full force horns in a matter of seconds, giving a whole new meaning to phrase “blow your mind.” This type of change-up mid composition would seem insane for anyone who has never seen this lively act perform in person before, but it was a trick I have come to both expect and respect from this Brooklyn based ensemble. The fact that they can play with such agility night after night is remarkable and stains your memory.

The band continued to bust out new material from Survival Sounds as the night chugged along. “Shake Me Around” is a bit darker and heavier than most of Rubblebucket’s catalog, demonstrating that this is an act with few limitations. The tune ended with a duet by trumpet player Alex Toth and trombonist Adam Dotson, both dressed in drag singing into the same microphone like Prince’s very own backup singers. After another “always always always” sing along, “Rewind” bounced the room into the poppier side of Rubblebucket, with enough synth to mirror “Holiday” by Madonna. They then busted out confetti guns to make it rain tiny streams of tissue paper over their audience for the song’s dance party climax.


About half of the crowd dressed up for Halloween. My favorite costume was ‘Sharknado,’ although I had no clue what it was at the time. I have since watched this ridiculous movie and have crazy respect for anyone who tries to pull off that costume. After all, the concept is completely terrifying.

The Prince vs. Spider Man dance off was definitely the comedic highlight of the night. Half the band was dressed as Spider Man while lead vocalist Kalmia Traver donned Prince’s purple suit with a curly black wig. The band announced the dance off competition several weeks in advance so many members of the audience dressed as each character. They were all invited onto the Metro stage to bust out their best dance moves while Rubblebucket jammed out to Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” The first Prince to throw down was probably the most entertaining with his bright red suit and eccentric dance moves. He ended up tying for first place with a she-Prince with a flashy sequence jacket. They all danced together on stage while the band jammed out and Traver inconspicuously stripped out of her purple Prince suit and proudly popped up in a Spider Man costume to finish the song. Tricky. Tricky.

Once the stage cleared of all the dance off contestants, Landlady (still dressed as lunch ladies) joined Rubblebucket for “Came Out of a Lady.” This is the song this band usually pulls out all the stops for and just like clockwork, a colorful parachute began to cover the crowd, Alex Toth mounted a man dressed as a police officer, together they ran under the parachute and through the crowd while Toth erratically played his trumpet. From the stage, Kalmia encouraged the audience to put their hands up and clap along. Little did we know this was just another Halloween trick they whipped up so the lunch ladies could crowd surf off the stage, spatulas in hand. It was pure insanity but the chaos eventually calmed and Traver shared with us that this was the longest tour Rubblebucket has ever done just before jumping into a song about the monotony of life: “Carousel Ride.” The irony runs deep, but it didn’t go unnoticed, especially at this Halloween show.


By the encore it was clear that this show was full blown weird, even for Rubblebucket. Traver covered herself with a long white fringed shawl and covered her head with a bucket that had the word “RUBBLE” written across it. (see photo below) The group concluded their setlist with the electro indie song “Save Charlie” that was complemented by a balloon release over the crowd. In keeping with tradition, the show ended with Rubblebucket’s horn section hopping off the stage and parading through the audience as if it were Mardi Gras. The crowd followed them around the main room of the venue until they blew their way down the stairs to the Metro store where they signed CD’s, shook hands, and kissed giant men dressed as babies.




This Must Be The Band at Martyrs’

[Words by Matt Dusza | Photos by Ashley Marie Downing]

It’s a strange thing for your favorite band to be a cover band. It’s even stranger to think they could execute songs even better than the original artists and turn them into something special. That’s exactly what Chicago-based Talking Heads tribute band This Must Be The Band has done. Now after 7 years, hundreds of shows, and dozens of band members later, there may not be any more Heads, but there’s plenty to talk about.


I had the pleasure of taking part in the band’s final shows at Martyrs’ in mid October. Many have wondered why the final shows took place in such a small venue when the band has hit the level of local fame that they have. I mean, let’s face it, this band could have sold out a much larger venue. While TMBTB has headlined many Chicago summer street festivals and have even opened for prominent jamband mainstay Umphrey’s McGee, but Martyrs is a venue deeply seeded in the roots of TMBTB. After all, this is where the band was born. Frontman and possible illegal David Byrne clone Charles Otto and backup singer/lead female vocals Kasey Foster were both employees at the venue when they first met and started the band. Their first shows were played there as well. With so much of the history of the band belonging to the venue, it should only be fitting that this is where they bring it all home.

I attended all the three nights of the final TMBTB run and each night had a distinct vibe from both the band and the audience. It was originally billed as a two night run, but the overwhelming demand for tickets caused the Friday and Saturday shows to sell out within hours of going on sale. The band then added a third show on Thursday night for anyone unable to get tickets for the other nights. With it being a show on a weeknight that did not start until 10pm, it was noticeable around the band’s set break that a sizable portion of the crowd would have to leave soon, least they show up to their jobs Friday morning looking like the most haggard of wooks. The band acknowledged that fact by busting out the hits early and often. “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House,” “Take Me to the River,” and many more of Talking Heads’ biggest hits we’re played before many even had a chance to loosen up. But it left the band with only the hardcore fans to close out the night with whatever deep cuts the crowd could shout at them, and those that remained were treated some serious ragers, along with some heartfelt words of gratitude from members of the band, many who haven’t actually played with the band in years.

That was the first noticeable difference in these weekend shows. TMBTB has had dozens upon dozens of members over the years and plenty more musicians have sat in with them from time to time. They decided to invite anyone who ever played with them in the past to join them on stage one last time. In an ironic twist where the crowd would usually scream out requests, the guest got a chance to choose which song they would like to relive with his or her old bandmates. It made for some great moments of on-stage banter and many smiles were exchanged between musicians who haven’t made music with each other in years. It was clear that these were more than just three shows before TMBTB called it quits. My personal favorite was the singing cab driver who provided the vocals for “Stay Up Late” quipping that he’s singing the only popular song in music to have the words “tiny peepee”.

On Friday night the spontaneity of this group was at its highest. The night’s opening band Genome joined TMBTB on stage to add some horns to the mix. They were also able to live out the rock and roll fantasy of crowd surfing and playing on top of tables. More and more sit ins and guest appearances kept the stage presence unique and varied all night. They even pulled the curtain back on the lives of the band members with Charlie plugging all their individual current musical projects. It’s obvious Otto has a desire to make sure the local music scene in Chicago remains active. The night brought one final magic moment in where Charlie proposed to Kasey, his longtime bandmate and girlfriend in front of their most devoted fans. As I said before, these last shows had to take place at Martyrs’ in order for them to be as special as they were.

With guests and announcements being the primary focus of Friday night, Saturday’s final show was for the fans. Before Talking Heads music started, most of TMBTB opened the night with their original band, Grood. With their spacey, ethereal sound, the early crowd got into a nice groove before the band segued into Talking Heads’ signature weird with a punch of funk. The influence that the Heads’ music has made on Grood was never more apparent than when they were playing their own original songs. During the set break, as they set up for what would be the final This Must Be the Band show, a projector screen dropped down to cover the stage showing a slideshow of personal photos taken by the band over the years from both previous performances and tour memories. All of this made it very apparent that the band really did consider their fans to be friends and part of their history.

The band returned to the inclusive “yell out a song and we’ll play it if we hear you” way of creating the night’s setlist. The frenzied crowd danced all night long, with the only sit-in of the night being Martyrs’ owner Ray Quinn playing jazz flute (with full hammy Ron Burgandy stage banter). But this was not only special moment… During “Girlfriend is Better” four different fans dressed in the iconic “Big Guy Suit” got on stage for a crowd-judged “David Byrne Dance Off” where each suit had to do their best David Byrne dance move. Both the crowd and the band definitely fed off the energy of this impromptu contest as we were all thoroughly entertained by what was happening on stage. As the night was drawing ever closer to its 2:30am curfew, it was starting to hit everyone that this was it. TMBTB waited until the final minutes to say some last words of love and gratitude to the fans. They then closed out with the song that gave them their name: “This Must Be The Place.” Already an incredibly emotional song, everyone in the building, band and crowd alike, was united in a moment of pure appreciation for what one has given to the other.

It was a fantastic weekend that I will not forget, but it was also bittersweet. An era is over for Chicago for there will no longer be a constant guarantee of a fun night with my best friends seeing our favorite band. I have often thought that if Talking Heads were to ever reunite, I would spend any amount of money to make sure I was at the reunion show. But now, after seeing This Must Be the Band for so many years, watching them grow from covering songs note for note to putting their own unique twist on the sound, I wonder if a reunion show would be able to live up to the experience I’ve seen this cover band execute so flawlessly. And it’s in that moment where I realized that TMBTB needed to end because, as Charles Otto explained, at some point the music starts to make too much sense.

Dopapod and The Coop at Double Door

[Words by Lauren Spina, Photos by Brent Greene]

On October 17th, Double Door’s stage was gifted with two genre-breaking bands. Having Dopapod and The Coop play together could not have been a better match. Both bands have such a raw, unique sound that really ends up complementing each other when they end up on the same bill. Each has a hint of every genre in their music yet they are both so perfectly different. This night of music filled the Double Door with everything a well rounded music fan could ask for and then some.

One thing I love about the Chicago music scene is if I want to see The Coop, I don’t have to wait too long to do so. These local musicians play my home territory multiple times a year as they continue to mature into a sound that is all their own. There’s something about the combination of different types of electronic music mixed with jazz, rock, and jam that keeps me in their grip. No mater what they deliver, it is always crisp. It’s like they’ve perfected their particular sound and now they’re always outdoing themselves. The Coop never fails in conducting a high energy dance party. Obviously, this set was the best way to kick off a Dopapod show, especially at the Double Door. Things got really saxy when Jared Shaw came on for a few songs which definitely got the crowd rowdy and ready for a long night of music.

The beautiful thing about seeing Dopapod live is that you never know what to expect. This improvisational, electronic yet metal, jam band is always awesome to see live and they always deliver. Their constantly changing, genre-defying sound makes their continuously growing fan base keep coming back for more. This band isn’t afraid of anything, they thrive on getting weird and exploring new soundscapes. With that approach this band never plays the same show twice and as a result, it is extremely stimulating to see them live time and time again.

Over the last couple of years Chicago has proven they are ready for what Dopapod has to offer us. While they keep adding tour dates in our city, we keep showing up. It’s almost like we just can’t get enough from this well oiled machine. Their extensive touring has put them on the map and grabbed the attention of many music fans far and wide. The band continues to dominate every stage they play on whether it be at a festival or the intimate Double Door. The key to their mojo is their ability to improvise on the spot as a group. It is not simply one musician soloing after another, it is a group effort to hit that happy place of musical bliss.

There is always a point during a Dopapod show when I notice my jaw is sitting on top of my feet. With this particular show, they covered Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know“ for their encore. Okay, you can’t cover Alanis if you don’t have the voice or the raw angst that she releases into that song. Guitarist Rob Compa sang the first verse somewhat delicately so I was unsure of what was to come next. After all, this group did not start incorporating lyrics into their music until just a few years ago. But then Compa slapped the crowd in the face with enough pissed off passion needed to bring it all home. I wasn’t sure whether to keep head banging or run in the other direction. Everything about that cover was fantastic; Scotty Zwang was completely on point with drums, Chuck Jones gave the bass line a perfect amount of funk, Eli Winderman worked his magic on keys at the best times and Rob absolutely crushed it on vocals and his insane guitar solo near the end. Along with their dynamite cover, they also played three of my favorite originals; “Weird Charlie,”  “Onionhead” and “Nerds.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Dopapod live is a treat that everyone should gift themselves with.

Overall, the Dopapod show at the Double Door was exactly what I have come to expect from this up and coming jam machine. The fact that The Coop kicked things off that night was the perfect complement for my musical taste buds. Make sure to keep an eye out for the release of Dopapod’s fourth studio album, Never Odd or Even, on November 11th. Visit and sign up on the email list to be sent a link to download a free digital version of the album!

Interview/Review: David Nelson of New Riders of the Purple Sage


[Photos by Chris Monaghan]

This past September David Nelson, founding member of New Riders of the Purple Sage, brought his band to SPACE in Evanston. I came to the venue straight from work and almost couldn’t find this hidden gem. I was early because I had arranged an interview with Nelson before the show that night. The venue is actually a multi-use building where the front part is a busy restaurant and the back features a behind-the-scenes studio and impressive green room. Then between the studio and the restaurant there is this space: a whimsical lounge-like room with upside down umbrellas that control the room’s ambient lighting.

While the show was sold out that night, being there early gave me plenty of time get acclimated and have an intimate discussion with David Nelson before the show began. By the time I emerged from the back room, the sold out crowd had filled in all the tables that surrounded the stage and lined the walls. NRPS have been on the road for over 40 years creating music and they’ve been selling out venues like SPACE night after night across the country. This band is the real deal. While most of their contemporaries have called it quits, NRPS is still out there making magic. Guitarist Michael Falzarano has an entertaining spunk that is contagious and Buddy Cage commands his pedal steel in such a way that his talent just slides right off the strings. After all, Jerry Garcia left some pretty big shoes for Cage to fill when he left NRPS back in the early 1970’s.

The band delivered two solid hours of music that night. Overall, the progression of their well-curated setlist captured a spirit in each song that really drew me in. I asked Nelson about playing the folk classic “Peggy-O” during our interview earlier that night. He shared, “That was pitched to me by Jerry (Garcia). I went and asked him, ‘Where did you get that song?’ And he said, ‘Put’s Golden Songsters,’ because you had to go get a book to get most of these songs. Only a few people had recorded it and then, months after that, of all people, Dylan recorded it. That was a new thing to me too. I had never heard of this guy before and I was going, ‘Could that be the same song?’ You know it was such a rare song, you had to search for that one.”

NRPS exploited a deep rooted tradition with their music and started playing old folk songs long before they began creating music on their own. There is something about this type of music that is universal and very much a reason this band has been so successful over the years. Nelson is also a strong advocate for the Appalachian legacy within folk music. He explained, “To this day I still go to collect that kind of stuff. It’s still the best, really great. You can take it all the way to electric, synthesize it, you can put it in hip hop or bebop. It doesn’t matter you can take those tunes and there are some great lyrics.” These songs have endured over the years because they are timeless and still feels relevant even decades, nay centuries after they were written.



Nelson is an exceptional story teller and I couldn’t help dwell on our earlier conversation as the night progressed. One story that stood out involved the transition from using traditional folk songs to NRPS writing their own music. In fact, it wasn’t until the Beatles sensation hit America that Nelson and Garcia began entertaining the idea of creating their own lyrics. “You have to realize the first Beatles records were just pop music. They didn’t sound extraordinary or anything like that but we kind of knew this was such a huge angle, it’s going to be a big huge hit. So we better check it out. It didn’t become classic until they got relaxed in their creativity and wrote stuff from like Rubber Soul or even Beatles 65 ‘Baby’s in Black.’ That was really unusual and imaginative.” Nelson explained, “Then, and only then, did we get on board. It was just like ‘OK, I’m writing songs, I’m going to try that.'”

New Riders of the Purple Sage was birthed out of the idea that music should be timeless and now, all these years later, Nelson is still proving that point. The show at SPACE drew to a conclusion with a standing ovation from the sold out crowd. It was obvious that the songs this band showcased that night carry on a legacy that Nelson and Jerry worked so hard to capture and preserve. There is no doubt this music will be around long after the New Riders are gone.

Chromeo at Riviera Theatre

This has definitely been the year of the #FNKLRDZ. Extensive touring, a ridiculous amount of festival appearances,  a strong album (White Women) with a track (“Jealous”) that radio stations loved and DJs loved to play/remix even more… It’s safe to say that Chromeo had one hell of a 2014. And Chicago’s been lucky to be a primary recipient — they played a sold out show at Lincoln Hall in May, then a prime set at Lollapalooza, and just recently arrived to a sold out Riviera Theatre as well, which just goes to show how cool it was that they played such a small venue (for their size) earlier this year. But it’s Fall now, and sustained exposure for an entire year can either expose flaws or reveal new facets of an artist’s repertoire. So the question was: how would Chromeo’s third appearance in Chicago of 2014 compare with the others?

The answer, unfortunately, was that it compared far too similarly to the previous two shows. It’s one thing to tour in support of an album, that was understandable in Spring when White Women was hot off the presses. But it’s quite another to play essentially the same show three times in one calendar year in the same place. In a city like Chicago, we notice stuff like that. And it typically doesn’t sit well with us. There’s really no excuse to not dig a little deeper the third time around, or at the very least seriously switch up the setlist. And how the hell do they NOT play “My Girl Is Calling Me” again?!? That track is the pure, uncut heatrocks and they have to know it… why not play it? So as far as the discerning fan is concerned, this show was a bit of a disappointment.

But with that said, if this was the first time you’ve gotten to see Chromeo in 2014, you probably thought it was best shit ever. I definitely did when I saw this show in May. They sounded as sharp as you’d imagine for playing so often — they are clearly completely locked in at this point of the year. And they have one of the most engaging & electrifying light design/stage productions you will find with any touring band — their use of mirrors & reflections (that chrome guitar!) is next level, there’s nobody else doing it quite like that. But what’s most entertaining about their show is that they actually live the charisma they project with their lyrics. P Thugg is just one smooth sonofabitch — he makes being perfect look effortless. His cool energy provides balance for Dave 1 and his lascivious rock star stage presence. Can you even imagine waking up everyday being that good looking? I mean… damn. Lots of people are cocky, but few make cocky as entirely loveable as this guy. The whole package just works for Chromeo, they’re both smooth motherfuckers, but a different kind of smooth that comes together in some of the funkiest music our planet has ever heard.

Chromeo is definitely one of the best live shows you will see; they have their funkyass formula down to a fine science and they’re milking it. But how much milk is too much milk? It’s not like I’m going to stop being a huge fan of these guys, but I don’t know if I want to see a third of the same Chromeo show in a row. Then again, who knows how much Chromeo anyone will see in 2015? They’ve laid low in the past — maybe they will chill out for a spell and let the legend of the #FNKLRDZ grow once again.

2014 Phases of the Moon Festival

[Words by Nathaniel Lutes | Photos by Joe Noel, Ashley Downing & Chris Monaghan]

The first annual Phases of the Moon Music and Arts Festival was certainly one for the books. The severe lack of preparation for the huge number of people descending upon Danville, IL for the weekend, coupled with heavy rains in the days leading up to the fest, resulted in the definition of clusterfuck at the entrance gates. I had the opportunity to ask festival goers all weekend long what their wait times were and many people reported wait times of 12 to 20 hours. I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty as my camping mate and I breezed right on through the gates at 10am on Thursday, and found a dry spot to camp fairly easily with almost no assistance or direction from festival staff.

Despite the lack of organization, it was clear the promoters were trying to do everything in their power to rectify the destroyed camping areas and music grounds. Helicopters hovered low over swampy fields to literally blow-dry the ground, perhaps acting as more of a display of “look how much money we’re spending trying to make this right” than a practical solution. Local contractors worked seemingly round-the-clock to lay tons and tons of mulch in the muddy concert areas, as it would’ve been impossible to stand, let alone dance. Due to the major setbacks abound, the concert areas didn’t open until about two hours past the scheduled time and all the artist’s sets were pushed back. Surprisingly as people starting finally trickling in attitudes were still positive, perhaps from the sheer relief people were feeling upon entry.

The first major act of the weekend that I caught was Galactic whose powerhouse funk set featured the amazing Maggie Koerner on vocals on a number of songs. What was disappointing however was the organ being used on stage, as I began to notice the keyboard player very visibly frustrated with the instrument he was playing. When I started to listen more carefully, I could hear the organ wavering in and out of tune, making it hard for me to ignore it the rest of the set. Stanton Moore and company played on like pros though and didn’t let the technical mishaps stop the funk. This wouldn’t be the last time that B3 organ would attempt to sabotage a band’s set that weekend…

Thursday night was my first real String Cheese Incident experience, which I definitely enjoyed, but still didn’t draw me in that much. I must admit that I was far more impressed earlier in the evening by Danville locals The James Jones Trio. This power-trio blues outfit stopped me in my tracks on my walk by to camp and kept me there for the rest of their set. Frontman James Jones ripped and shredded through solos with as much ferocity as Jake Cinninger with the attitude and power of Warren Haynes. A rock-solid rhythm section made this potent trio one of my most surprising and memorable sets of the weekend. Who knew that white boys from central Illinois could play the blues this well? The sheer power of what I’d heard drove me straight to the merch booth to buy their CD (disappointingly no where near the caliber of the live show).

Soulive’s late night set was certainly a heater, which was absolutely necessary as temperatures dropped into the low 40’s overnight. The main highlight for me from this set was the Beatles cover “Eleanor Rigby,” featuring a jazzy drum n’ bass arrangement that breathed new energy into a familiar song.
Friday started off right with Dumpstaphunk throwing it down on the New Moon stage. I was particularly excited for this set because it was my first opportunity to see new drummer Alvin Ford Jr. in action. He certainly didn’t disappoint one bit. The funk was being laid on as thick as ever, but once again that out-of-tune organ reared it’s ugly head just as it had during Galactic’s set on the same stage the night before. However, Ivan Neville quickly realized what was happening and handled it like a true professional by simply switching to a different keyboard and making it work for the rest of the set. At one particularly funky moment in the show he actually used the wildly wavering organ to his advantage to create an effect that made folks in the crowd make the “stank face.” Well played Ivan, well played.

Friday night presented another opportunity for me to give String Cheese a chance, but I must admit, I left about a third of the way through the set. It was cold, I wanted to save my energy for the remainder of the weekend, and we could hear everything on the Full Moon Stage pretty clearly from our campsite (I’m an Umphrey’s guy, what can I say?). Sadly, an unintended consequence of heading back to camp, I ended up sleeping through Monophonics and Kung Fu. Big mistake. I was going to have to make up for it the next day.

The first set that I caught on Saturday was Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, hailing all the way from California with their roots-y brand of rock and soul. Nicki’s voice was incredible, but I was particularly impressed with guitarist Deren Ney who displayed an array of chops ranging from country twang licks to full shred. I was glad to have the opportunity to hear the band in its full form, as I had only been familiar with their viral YouTube ‘Van Sessions.’ Definitely don’t miss an opportunity to see them live next time they’re in town.

My favorite set of the day, and most memorable perhaps the whole weekend arrived in the form of Leftover Salmon. This band had been on my radar for a long time, but I never really listened intently. With Salmon recently having added some fresh faces to the lineup, most notably drummer Alwyn Robinson and Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, I was about to truly understand the meaning of “poly-ethnic Cajun slamgrass.” My favorite song of the set was the title track from their most recent release Aquatic Hitchhiker that featured banjoist Andy Thorn. This version featured an expanded jam where each band member took an extended solo, ending with newcomer Alwyn Robinson showing every bit of his chops while still remaining locked in the groove. This band is sure to go to new heights with such a laser-focused energy and newer members making huge contributions. I already can’t wait for my next Salmon show and the release of their upcoming album High Country arriving November 28th.

The rest of the day was chock-full of phenomenal sets. Karl Denson, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Widespread Panic all delivered on levels that one would expect. Karl Denson’s set featured a cover of Cold War Kid’s “Hang Me Up to Dry” that got the entire crowd moving. One of the most powerful moments during Tedeschi Trucks’ set was when Susan was left alone of stage with her acoustic and delivered an absolutely heartwrenching soulful rendition of “Shelter” dedicated to their good friend the late Brian Farmer, longtime guitar tech to Warren Haynes. The listeners could feel an otherworldly presence inside the music and it was very clear what impact the loss had left. Widespread Panic was certainly a wild ride, but I took the opportunity to explore some of the installations scattered throughout the concert grounds. It was like a psychedelic playground at night and it became apparent that Phases of the Moon was a true music AND arts festival, both sides being represented equally. As I wandered the grounds, I happened to stop by the live painting area where Alex and Allyson Grey were working on special pieces for the festival. It was such an incredible experience to just stumble upon such legendary artists during Panic’s set. The Sanctuary was something special too, where festival-goers could retreat to get in touch with all things mind, body and spirit with classes and seminars taking place all weekend long.

Another pleasant surprise from the weekend was Steady Flow hailing from Peoria, IL. Right off the bat, I couldn’t help but think “Lettuce Jr.” because the bassist looked and dressed just like Eric “Jesus” Coomes, and their music sounded much within the same vein. But these kids (they all looked under legal drinking age) just completely destroyed the Town Square Stage. It didn’t take long for the crowd leaving Panic to congregate around these young musicians as they delivered one of the most high-energy sets I had yet to witness that weekend. Definitely keep an eye out for these up-and-comers, as I’m sure they’ll only get better with age and experience.

Musical favorites on Sunday included Robert Randolph & the Family Band, followed directly by Gov’t Mule. Randolph and Haynes are two of my favorite guitarists in the scene, so hearing their sets back to back was something special for me. Mule’s set was highlighted by a ridiculous cover of Zeppelin’s classic “No Quarter” as Warren ripped it to shreds the only way he can.

All in all, I have to give the Phases staff and production teams props even with all of the lack of cohesion in the beginning and all the setbacks to overcome. The promoters faced challenges that festivals still struggle to deal with even in their 10th year, so it must have been especially difficult on their maiden voyage. I’m certain that as the years go on this event will only get better and better. I already look forward to returning next year to this true “Fall Festival.”




Snarky Puppy, Philip Lassiter at Reggie’s (Two-Night Run)

At this point a two-night Snarky Puppy run at Reggie’s is becoming a bit of a tradition in Chicago. They’ve been back twice (Boulevard Fest and Metro) since the last double sell out at Reggie’s in May of 2013, but it’s definitely starting to feel like Snarky Puppy just belongs at Reggie’s — which, by the way,continues to be one of the city’s most underrated venues.

What’s also emerging as a trend is how you should never miss an opening act for Snarky Puppy. They’re basically an extra Snarky Puppy set with them playing someone else’s music. And that someone else is always awesome because they come from Snarky’s label groundUp Music. Earlier this year they played with Banda Magda at Metro, and for this run they played both nights with Philip Lassiter. When Prince tabs you to play trumpet with his live band, you know you’re doing it right, which is where Lassiter finds himself now. But he also just released a new solo album, which is where the material for these sets came from. It was essentially the same set both nights, but they were both very good. Lassiter showed that not only is he a very unique & talented trumpet player, but he is a badass keys player and one hell of a vocalist to boot. Repeat: never miss an opening act for Snarky Puppy.

Much like the last two-night run, the breadwinner of the pair was the opening night. That’s not to say the second night was bad — there’s no such thing as a bad Snarq Dogg show. But this time around, they did a much better job of switching up the material and avoiding repeated songs from night to night. The Friday show was an all-out barnburner, a filthy, relentless set that showed the full range of their intensity. And thanks to new keys/synth player Corey Eberhard (along with regular Justin Stanton), there was a stronger synthesizer presence than usual — a little bit of Synthy Puppy, if you will. Then the second night was a much softer around the edges type of affair, with more emphasis on their funky side. They seemed a little more laidback, more like a leisurely cruise than a high-speed burn. Even though I preferred the first night, it was awesome to see them show some dexterity in their setlist as well as their music.

There’s no question that every part of this band can and will standout at any given moment — they’re all musical geniuses in some way or another. But time and time again the percussion combination of Sput Searight and Nate Werth show that they simply do things other bands can’t even dream of. After these shows, it’s not a stretch to say that they’re clearly THE best percussion duo on the planet right now. They are onto some extrasensory perception/hive mind type shit that shouldn’t even be possible. Despite the fact that Sput rapidly shifts his timing & patterns nearly constantly, Werth somehow stays exactly in step with his ever-changing rhythm at all times. There were multiple drum ‘solos’ on both nights, but each night featured one that was utterly mind-blowing. The first night’s came, quite unexpectedly, during “Shofukan,” a song which is certainly growing but never into a drum section like the before. The second night’s came in a more expected form during “Tio Macaco,” which is perfectly suited for a percussion freak out despite being written by bassist Michael League. These sections during both nights were some of the most engaged & energetic points of each show, which is a stark contrast to just about every other ‘drums’ section ever.

One of things that continues to standout and separate Snarky Puppy from other bands is the strong jazz club vibe throughout their shows. I mean, they got the crowd to clap in perfect 7/4 timing to open “Celebrity” on the first night — textbook jazz stuff. Yet, they play music that is undeniably ‘dance music,’ which makes them an extremely rare musical entity. Dance party fuel with the technical prowess to throw jazz flairs into anything on a whim… Their ability to alter their timing on the fly, all in sync & extraordinarily precisely, causes outbursts from the crowd exactly like you’d find at a rockin’ jazz club show. People hang on every note, every motion of the band, so when they throw a clever or unexpected curveball the crowd just eats it up. And for good reason — from night to night these curveballs come at any time, in any song, and with such confidence it often seems like they were written into the songs from the start. It’s a level of musical dexterity and precision that places them in the 99th percentile of every band on Earth.

Watching these guys over the years, what’s becoming more impressive is their ability to launch a piece of improvisation during literally any part of their music. At any time, any piece of music, no matter how short/small, can spark an improvised tangent. With most bands who specialize in improv, their songs have built-in spots where improv just fits — when the song reaches that part you know improv is coming. But with Snarky Puppy, absolutely anything can become a jam. The prime instance of this was the first night’s version of “Binky.” This has become quite the jam vehicle since it’s inception, but what set this one apart was how they jammed out the downtempo, spacey section right before that wild hip-hop/funk final piece (which was also jammed, for good measure). This tiny little area on the recorded version of the song, a part of the song that (relative to the rest of the song) is almost imperceptible, this piece that could so easily be an after-thought suddenly became this murky, psychedelic, seriously stretched-out segment of music that they conjured out of absolutely nowhere. No other band can do anything quite like this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Snarky Puppy is the next level’s next level.


Tauk, EGi, and The Teradactyls at Abbey Pub

[Photos by Michael Kaiz]
03_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

Now that summer is over, the great people of Chicago have the pleasure of being a major stop for most touring bands. Sure, festival season is great but short 45 minute set times always leave me wanting more from the smaller, lesser known acts creeping on a come up. That’s why I was thrilled to hear one of my favorite bands from New York was hitting up Abbey Pub on their way out west for a run of shows in Colorado. The name of the band is Tauk and they’ve sucked me in by way of their supreme studio productions and visionary arrangements.

There were actually three bands on the bill that crisp October night: The Teradactyls, EGi, and Tauk. I got there early and immediately noticed a police officer patting down hombres with tattoo tears as they waited in line by the entrance. This was not a common scene for this North Side venue and I soon found out there was a Mexican fiesta taking place in the main room of the Abbey, which had been double booked. Instead of canceling the show, the powers that be cleared the tables in The Green Room and utilized the small stage at the end of the room that barely raised 6 inches off the ground. In fact, Gonzo, the percussionist for EGi, had to set up on the floor so the rest of the band could fit. Needless to say, it was a crowded affair.

05_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

Before the music started I conducted an interview with each member of EGi. The last musician I had to sit down with was Gonzo, who I finally found playing with The Teradactyls. They kicked things off with the Grateful Dead then bounced right into the Disco Biscuits. This early set drew a smaller crowd, so I stood in front of everyone and let Charlie Rigg blow my mind with his thick bassline. Gonzo eventually stepped away from playing, so I cornered him in the back of the room and strong armed him into an interview.

We moved to the Abbey’s outdoor patio in search of a spot where I could pick his brain. Gonzo was entertaining and very down to earth. Check out the interview HERE for a taste of what this band is all about. We reentered The Green Room as the Teradactyls were finishing up their impressive set and EGi was up next. While I have only had a chance to catch this local band once before, a hometown show proved just what these guys are capable of, despite the constricting stage set up. I got to say, this group specializes in going off the rails. They kicked off their set with “Peaches” which crashed directly into “Montezuma’s Revenge.” Song after song, they continually captivated anyone within earshot as The Green Room slowly began to fill to the brim. The set ended with a high energy “Jump” where this band’s teamwork vibe synergistically took us all to that other level.

12_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_Tauk_Photo by Michael Kaiz

Just as I expected, Tauk didn’t let their surroundings effect their sound either. They were locked in and focused from the very first note. This group delivers a crisp approach to their live performance where jams feel more like compositions. Guitarist Matt Jalbert sailed into solo after solo while drummer Isaac Teel kept the energy elevated. The low rise stage brought Tauk to our level, where we could see the inspiration in their eyes and perspiration on their skin. It’s obvious this band doesn’t play to please a normal audience. After all, where is the art in that? They have too much respect for their music to do it even a hint of injustice. There are no words to distract from the groove, even when they covered “She’s So Heavy.” Yet, somehow, it works. Maybe it’s because Tauk creates a type of music that translates to an universal language. It’s illusive and very niche, yet it grows on you. Once you get sucked it, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the rabbit hole. The pleasure of digging into a band like Tauk is that the subtleties suddenly matter. As a listener, you distinctly notice each instrument because they are individually integral each song’s story.

13_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_Tauk_Photo by Michael Kaiz

Tauk’s set at Abbey Pub that night contained a hand full of old and a sprinkling of new. Classic songs like “Homunculus” and “When in Doubt” zoned in on this band’s seamless delivery with controlled progression, while newer music showcased a more melodious side of Tauk. Needless to say, their well-rounded catalog proved a limitless pool of inspiration. It had been well over a year since I checked this band out live and I was impressed how the new material highlighted different flavors within their performance. Overall, Tauk kept the groove tight and the music continued well past 2am.

Do yourself a favor and check out these acts. EGi and The Teradactyls will be gracing stages all over Chicagoland these next few months. While Tauk may not be rolling back through the Midwest until next year, I highly recommend checking out their studio work in the meantime. Their newest release, Collisions, is well worth a listen.

Seven Arrows at Concord Music Hall


Last month at Concord Music Hall, Chicago played host to the debut show for Seven Arrows, a brand new group formed by former STS9 front man, David Murphy. The band, formed just this year, is Murph’s new vision on where he wanted to take his music since parting ways with Tribe. In fact, The Seven Arrows website even mentions that Murph left the band to create a more focused sound. With an EP already released in their very early freshman year, the band felt they had enough to hit the road and play a few shows to get their name out there and let people know what they are about.


Their debut show was, to my surprise, actually pretty damn good. I honestly was expecting minimal bass play and a lot of computer touching from Murph, and from the sound of the debut EP, some generally weak sound ‘live house.’ I just didn’t know about them. At all. But vocalist Ashley Niven proved to be quite spectacular and her voice fit very well with the music, who had seemed like they had been playing together a lot prior to this first gig.


The music was a blend of funk, soul, and psychedelic rock, all with an electronic emphasis in some way. This mixture with the electronic twist was what I was expecting from Seven Arrows and really anything involving David Murphy. The first half of the show was elaborated and extended versions of their own material and this was what surprised me and became the most enjoyable part of the performance. The rhythm of the setlist and the show’s vibe was very dancy and uplifting. Each member on stage was highly composed and ready for their first outing as a band, which made us in the audience believe that they could really be something.


The second part of the show consisted of a handful of STS9 covers. STS9 covers that you could immediately tell Murph had his hand in producing, but that would only make sense considering the circumstances. Still though, they were Tribe songs I didn’t need to hear. I was enjoying the first half so much and then this got dropped on us. I know Seven Arrows only has one EP out and are continuing to write and produce new material, but don’t rely heavily on the STS9 catalogue for your covers.


Seven Arrows is expected to have a few more shows in 2014 and are said to be releasing a full-length album some time in 2015. The sound is something that has become more and more common these days but the vocals from Niven and the reputation and popularity of Murph can elevate Seven Arrows to a pretty high level in the scene. We can only hope that they don’t become just another jamtronica band that sounds like that other jamtronica band that came out yesterday and the day before.


James Murphy, The Black Madonna, and Rahaan at Smart Bar

In his post-LCD Soundsystem life, James Murphy is finding many ways to stay busy and creative. He’s developed a specialty coffee for sale, explored his passion of cooking and worked with major chefs like Inaki Aizpitarte, and even partnered with IBM on a music project based off various data points from the US Open in conjunction with a computer alogrithm to create electronic music. But for his vast legion of fans, they are comforted by the fact he continues to DJ regularly around the planet. Murphy’s eclectic sets are typically anchored by classic disco cuts, but he also manages to eschew from locking in on any genre specifically and create a wide palette for audiences to ingest. After performing at various venues across Chicago recently, he returned to Smart Bar for his first performance at the iconic club in many years. Chicago locals Rahaan and The Black Madonna were on support for the evening and rounded out a stellar lineup that sometimes gets taken for granted around here.

Life has certainly changed for Marea Stamper in the last two years. After accepting the head talent buyer position for Smart Bar, she released a hit underground dance record on Argot, and subsequently made a few treks touring across Europe. Her most recent jaunt paired her with respected Chicago house stalwart Rahaan, so the chemistry was evident from the beginning of their set. The track selection for their b2b set was tasteful, elegant, and encompassed Murphy’s style while showcasing their own tastes. It was the hallmark of a proper opening set. The Black Madonna is known for her disco laden sets, high NRG jams, and overall variety. Rahaan was able to add a soulful flavor to the mix and the back and forth between the two felt like they’d been playing together for years. The records they selected got the room lively and excited; get out and see both of these artists. They know how to control a room.

As the anticipation swelled in the room, James Murphy stepped up and veered off into a dark, spacey territory. It was reminiscent of his recent stints, like at Wavefront Music Festival in 2013. The set, as expected, featured plenty of disco delights and funky jams. The 3 hour dance session had a classic feel to it as Murphy appeared to pull older records that featured gorgeous vocals from female singers. He even revisited his standout Fabriclive.36 mix with LCD Soundsystem drummer Pat Mahoney and dropped Chic’s “I Feel Your Love Comin’ On” to much delight from the audience. It was hard not to enjoy the soulful nature of his set and most of the audience appeared to be having a lot fun. Smart Bar was packed throughout the night but not too overcrowded, leaving people with plenty of room to move throughout the dance floor. The thumping basslines were a signature of all the artists on the bill and showcased Smart Bar’s powerful sound system. All in all, it was another memorable night at one of the best nightclubs on the planet. Sometimes magic is in the air that is undeniable to everyone in the room.


2014 Riot Fest

Rage in the rain during Slayer’s set on Friday

Well, Summer is officially over and Riot Fest kicked it in the ass on the way out the door. Only two weeks prior, the Sunday of North Coast Fest was brutally hot, a giant sweaty mess, but Riot Fest was all jackets & jeans with nighttime temps dropping firmly into the hoodie zone — which just goes to show you how fast the seasons change in Chicago. The final outdoor music festival of the year for Chicago was marked by a soaking wet & muddy Friday, the lingering effects from which hung around through the entire weekend and made Humboldt Park a mess. You know how some festivals end up defined more by shitty weather than anything else? Unfortunately, that’s where this year’s Riot Fest lands, marked with an asterisk on our festival accounting sheet as a ‘weather festival.’

About five seconds after this photo, the ‘heel’ grabbed that microphone and bounced it off his opponent’s face, at which point I fucking lost it.

But that’s not to say it didn’t have it’s glorious upsides. There’s no other music festival with the diversity of entertainment, from wrestling to the people watching to the carnival and everything in between, Riot Fest was a flurry of activity at every turn. At first I wanted to say it’s closer to Pitchfork than North Coast or Lolla, but after seeing a slew of rowdy mosh pits and an unending stream of crowd surfers at about 80% of the sets, it’s clear that Riot Fest is in a league of its own, even with the weather doing everything in its power to derail the festival on its first day.

Beautiful Humboldt Park. Not pictured: the clusterfuckery

While the festival as whole was a great experience, it had its share of major issues as well… and most of them centered around the poor layout of the stages in the space of the park. While Humboldt Park is the most interesting & scenic of the Chicago music festival parks, the way they placed the stages made very little sense. For one thing, there was no reason to use the “Main Entrance” unless you were picking up passes/credentials — the closest entertainment to this area was the zombie haunted house, which cost extra money and reportedly was pretty corny. Instead, this quarter of the park was a ghost town, while other areas were crowded well past the point of comfort. The northernmost area of the park was a ridiculous clusterfuck of the crowd from the Riot/Roots stage backing into the main foot traffic road/food vendor row. The peak crowding came during the Wu-Tang Clan/Flaming Lips segment on Saturday night, which basically turned into an butts-to-nuts cattle herd that took 15-25 minutes to traverse, easily among the worst crowding I’ve experienced at any event ever. The ridiculous rainstorm on Friday night presented a new set of shitty circumstances, but it just reinforced the half-cocked stage layout and made you wonder if the organizers have ever even heard of mulch before.

Andrew WK is a madman

Despite these issues, Riot Fest was a blast (mainly from the past). There was no shortage of nostalgia, and the good music far outweighed the bad. Though there was definitely some questionable music at Riot Fest, the beauty of this fest was that with seven stages, there was always at least three music choices in addition to the array of other entertainment. One of the primo spots in Humboldt was the wrestling ring, which provided some of the most hilarious shit I’ve ever seen at a festival. But naturally, the music was the bread & butter and there were a number of great sets every day of the fest. Seeing The Offspring play Smash from front to back made the 8-year-old me pee his pants. Seeing The Mighty Mighty Bosstones made the 9-year-old me freak out and the 28-year-old me remember that ska was actually pretty cool once upon a time. And, once again, Andrew WK was the embodiment of Riot Fest and had his mid-afternoon crowd on a constant diet of party and crowd surfing. But, at the end of the weekend, there were three sets that stood out from the pack, three sets that were so good they made the whole weekend a victory based on their merit alone. Riot Fest was a great event with lots of room to grow in this new location, but sets like these are what sets Riot Fest apart from the rest.

Bucket list shit


Even though mother nature was pissing all over Riot Fest, Slayer proved why they are legends by shredding through a frigid rainstorm and bringing a little slice of Hell to Humboldt Park. The deluge of rain, in concert with the stage haze + light design, enveloped the Rise/Rebel stage area in a powerful way. The dark music and storm clouds came together to create a sense of treachery that is rare at a music festival. It was menacing in all the right ways. Even though the music itself was fairly sloppy (shredding with numb fingers must be really difficult), they reinforced their metal god status by bringing the heat thunder in freezing conditions. The end of the show brought this crazy energy when they faded into the mist surrounding us, only to re-emerge with the extended, haunting drum intro of “Raining Blood.” When the great hammer finally fell, this was probably the most raging moment of Chicago’s festival season. Slayer makes you wonder if all the EDM kids even know what true rage looks like.

Pure evil


Despite the inverted crucifixes & general Satanic overtones of Slayer’s set, the most truly evil sounds of the weekend came from Primus. If there’s any musician whose planet of origin likely is NOT Earth, it’s Les Claypool. The sounds he makes with his bass guitar just don’t sound terrestrial in any way. And neither did the drumming of Danny Carey, for that matter. The addition of his technical prowess added a new edge to Primus’ music that boggled my mind a number of times (the world needs more Danny Carey). But it was the jams that really made my brain flip — the way Claypool manhandles improvisation sections with bass leads is unlike anything else in rock. There were at least five stretches of dark, weird and unsettling segments of improvisation that seemed to perfectly summarize Riot Fest. Lurking around every corner of this set was a disturbingly psychedelic musical moment waiting to unfold.

More bucket list shit


The final set of the weekend also ended up being the best. While nostalgia was certainly a primary reason why this Weezer set kicked so much ass, it was the way these guys rocked the fuck out that made it even more special. For being such an innocent & ‘soft around the edges’ type of band, Weezer’s live show was far more energetic and edgy that I could have anticipated. Make no mistake, Weezer is a bonafide rock powerhouse and they were the perfect band to close out Riot Fest. The thing that really struck me was the power of The Blue Album 20 years after its release. It’s easy to forget just how ubiquitous this album was in the 90’s, but with one hit song/huge piece of my childhood after another, it was obvious that this album might just be one of the best of my generation. It was a masterpiece in 1994 and in 2014 it still rang loud & true as a serious monument in rock history. As one of my personal most anticipated sets of Riot Fest, it was an amazing thing to have Weezer come through and totally destroy my expectations. Long live Weezer, and long live Riot Fest.


Tipper at Portage Theater


[Words by Adrian Gurga, Photos by Kyle Miller aka The Saucy Monster]

Tipper is one of those artists you wait years to see. A legend in his field known for constantly reinventing his game, UK-native Dave Tipper is one act an EDM fan just can’t miss. So when I heard he was swinging through town on an extremely limited US tour, I decided to sign myself up. Online ticket purchases were made in 19 different states and eager glitch heads came from far and wide to catch 90 minutes with Tipper in a rare, sold out, live appearance.

Hosted at the historic Portage Theater in Portage Park, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect before entering the theater for a sold out EDM show. This charming 90-something year-old movie theater, has been under fire in the news this year due to a controversy over the theater’s owner, whose nefarious activities at the now defunct Congress Theater resulted in that venue being stripped of it’s liquor license and a moratorium being placed on all future EDM shows at that venue. So needless to say, I approached this project with some apprehension, an understandable level of disbelief that this was even happening.

Outside the theater, Milwaukee Ave. looked like an Oregon bus stop, with dreadlocked vagrants setting up shop in storefront doorways, some offering jewelry or wares for sale, others flying cardboard signs begging for a ticket to the show. Security patted everyone down as we entered. Inside, the warmly lit historic theater was bustling with hundreds of festival goers, glowing with anticipation.

For the most part, the place appeared as if it hadn’t been updated since long before any of its patrons had been born. The front concession stand had been converted to a bar and the entryway was crowded with wooks and heads filing in for the show. The bathrooms were already packed with lines out the doors as there were only about a dozen toilets in the whole establishment. Inside the theater hall, the mood was still cozy as early attendees sat in cushioned chairs, saving their energy, while Psydell and Mumukshu churned out ambient tunes with wobbly bass on the sound system.

The sound system itself was top notch, and sat on the floor in stacks just in front of the stage, a vintage theater organ nestled between them. These FUNKTION-ONE speakers replaced the house’s shoddy looking hanging PA system, which appeared as though it may have been salvaged from the Congress or another derelict venue. Hauling in your own sound system is standard operating procedure for Dave Tipper. Not surprisingly, the veteran DJ who has played a pioneering role in multichannel recording and music software design is also known to be quite a stickler when it comes to sound quality.

The theater’s enchanting French-inspired architecture provided a stark contrast to the ultramodern glowing projection-mapped pyramid and glitch pumping DJ booth that was the center of the stage. Most of the theater offered fixed, auditorium-style seating but there was a small pit at the front with standing room only and an absolutely crushing sound pressure. The venue offered an outdoor smoking section with a geniously placed taco stand — a double bonus which were both well used by the young but experienced festival crowd — emanating an aroma of cigarettes and grilled meats which mixed with bar smells and BO inside the venue. The theater holds a little over 2,000 people and it seemed like the place was pretty well occupied throughout most of the night as jittering bodies packed the aisles and practically every seat.

Of all the openers, Mumukshu seemed the most appropriate, with his downbeat and squelchy rhythms, he’s exactly who I would expect to find opening for Tipper. He was followed by CloZee, a 21-year old French producer who shows a stunningly well defined style for such a young DJ. Combining a plethora of genres, CloZee provided a mix that would be difficult to pin down with a single title, it’s well polished and almost commercial.

Visualizations by Johnathan Singer were provided throughout the evening and were projected onto The Infrasound Pyramid. While the geometry of the rig was quite simple, Singer did an great job of providing visuals that were intricate and imaginative, simulating the experience of watching Tron or 2001: A Space Odyssey on acid. The visuals had great textures and were presented through a variety of kaleidoscope filters so while the overall setup was simple it was also quite effective.

tipper 3

Tipper took the stage a little after midnight wearing a black baseball cap embroidered with a white question mark and was greeted with a warm cheer from the crowd. He spent the first few minutes sorting the decks out with a black-shirted technical assistant who shortly disappeared once Tipper was satisfied that all his musical toys were in working order. He confidently took a sip from a bottle of mineral water while quickly assessing the audience below.

Tipper’s set began slow, dropping in a few familiar tunes from his downtempo albums The Seamless Unspeakable Something and his most recent, Forward Escape. A combination of echoing bells and alien choirs provided the melodies while heavy, glitchy breaks provided the tempo — a rapid polyrhythmic amalgamation of tones that’s uniquely Tipper. The eccentric necessity to bring in a custom set of loudspeakers appeared to be completely justified.

The music was non-stop and the pace steadily increased. As the sounds became squelchier and the bass became wobblier, the audience resonated with the transition. A full fledged aural assault with decibels measuring in the triple digits ensued. He played a number of tracks from his recent EPs which are heavier and more upbeat than his recent albums, and members of the crowd responded enthusiastically to their favorite tunes. The air thickened with hot sweat and spirit molecules.

Tipper stayed pretty active throughout the night — a refreshing sight in a field where most DJs press play, light up a cig, and wave their arms for each drop — but Tipper looked cool and calculated, constantly deciding what to do next. Glancing at his laptop for visual cues, he’d step to the center console and shred the track to pieces with an effect break. When the music became too repetitive, he’d step to the turntables on his left and scratch the track into garbled oblivion with rapid synchronous high pitched squeals.

tipper 2

What’s striking about Tipper’s music is how intricate the sound is at every single moment. Composed not only of conventional sounds but often of purely synthetic tones of every flavor imaginable, he creates a luscious mix that uses the full audio spectrum. The result is a distinctive musical style that’s pleasing to the senses, even at astonishingly high volumes. You wouldn’t think people could dance to this kind of music, but they can. It’s fun to watch and even more fun to try. I’m talking about Monty Python’s “walking funny on purpose” kind of stuff. And that’s part of the magic of it — no one cares what they look like at this party — everyone is just here to get down.

As we approached the 2am mark, the venue was still packed to the brim and Tipper laid down a heavy jungle beat and some gnarly drum and bass. He closed on a familiar tune from his Puzzle Dust EP and humbly thanked the crowd with a bow, then quietly left the stage without ever addressing the audience.

If you couldn’t make it to the show and you’re wondering what you missed, Tipper has a playlist on soundcloud called Dancefloor that’s just for you. If you listen to that playlist on the loudest (and highest quality) audio system you can find, that’ll give you a pretty good sample of what a Tipper set sounds like. And if you’re still bummed about missing the show, not to worry, Infrasound will be bringing this artist back either through their Infrasound Oscillation series or maybe even a festival in your neighborhood soon. And if you’re really lucky, you may even get a downtempo set too.