At 7:30 I slipped out the front door with two camera bags slung around my neck. I gleefully thought of my helmet sitting on the shelf inside as I kick-started my scooter and pointed it towards Martyrs'. Chicago is settling into fall nicely and dusk suits the city well. The show inside the club couldn't possibly compete with the one Mother Nature has put together outside. Still, I resisted the urge to keep riding, maybe heading to the lake, and instead parked in front of the Lakeview club.
At 7:45 the first band was still sound checking, and the club was pretty sparse. I wondered if I the advertised 8:00 start time was optimistic (or an outright lie), or if the opener would be forced to play for this small assemblage. However, Martyrs' is an odd club with a layout and lighting that encourages fans and friends to lurk at tables in the shadows to the left and the right of the stage. The area to the fore of the stage is reserved for the bar patrons, who sit with their backs to the stage and bands. Knowing there was a full night of music ahead of me, I was thankful that the band took the stage at the appointed time, and after a short poem performed by a friend, began its set.
Chicago's On We is a six-piece alternative rock band fronted by vocalist Bridget O'Callaghan and led by guitarist Sam Gjakaj. This duo is joined by an additional guitarist, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a drummer. The large stage was easily able to accommodate this ensemble, even if the band's compositions were not. Unfortunately, this evolving line up generates too much sound, leaving the listener unable to determine where to focus his or her attention. This is particularly difficult when a wah wah guitar is overlapping with another playing metal licks while the keyboard provides swirling mania. O'Callaghan tries her best to make it through the chaos but she just isn't sure of her voice – or more precisely which voice to use. She has a lovely new wave growl that is used in a few songs (namely "Well Fed American"), but in others she finds herself reaching higher and swallowing her vocals. She tried equally as hard to focus the audience's attention on her stage show by wearing black knee high boots, fishnets, and a tight little black dress. But regardless of her sexy wardrobe, or the energy she exerted jumping around the stage, it was just not possible to pump up the small crowd so early in the evening.
While On We attempted to woo the crowd, New York's Jupiter One decided to intrigue them by opening with three or four minutes of noodling, feedback and noise. Slowly, the ethereal violin of frontman K Ishibashi began to take form, Zac Colwell put away his flute and picked up his guitar, and this new structure gave way to the soaring, synth-fueled pop rocker "Turn Up The Radio." At this point, the rock show was a go.
Ishibashi is a magnanimous frontman with rehearsed lines (how many times can one performer say the word "Chicago" and still collect applause from an audience?), and loads of onstage energy. His voice is bright, clear, passionate, and well trained; so much so that when the band slows the tempo, Jupiter One nearly moves into "American Idol" territory. He fronts a band that is equally slick. The quartet has mastered the art of (over)producing music heavy on danceable rhythms, power chords, group choruses, and synthesized flourishes that are all ready for mass consumption. Although the band hasn't had a proper album released, its music has been used in multiple video games, and on several television shows (the band made sure to remind us to listen for one song during the "Heroes" season premiere episode).
Despite all these critical strikes against the band, Jupiter One put on a fantastic show. The songs are immediate and catchy, and the players' performances are engaging and fun. Sitting somewhere between Cut Copy and Panic! at the Disco, this band is begging to be your guilty pleasure and your little sister's favourite band. Get them to sign a poster now, because when they hit, you'll be able to eBay that thing for a jet ski.
When Post Historic began its set a bit after 10:00, the evening's energy level had already peaked. This Illinois trio (who is currently looking for a bassist) plays subdued pop with hints of folk and alternative rock tossed in. Aside from his duties as guitarist, and occasional vocalist, Yoo Soo Kim provided elongated and soothing violin lines that blended well with the sparse, soft drumming of Zach Benkowski, and the bright strummed chords, and breathy harmonica of Jesse Johnson. The highlight of the set was the Johnson-sung, dark and murderous "Jennifer Green" – a song that plods along reminiscently of The Black Hearts Procession and with nearly as much tension. Near the end of the set, one of the acoustic guitars was traded for a Fender Telecaster, adding volume and additional depth to the band's sound, without betraying the band's established delicate moments.
The evening concluded with a short set by multi-instrumentalist and new new-wave composer Dan Wallace. Dan's smart and playful compositions are loose pop songs that walk the line between organic and computational. Listeners are nearly whisked away by Wallace's warm rounded vocals, his soft guitar, and the assortment of string and wind instruments, only to be jarred wide-eyed and mouth agape by sudden hectic polyrhythms, a staccato mandolin-like guitar interjection, a vintage 1980s guitar shred, or any other unexpected and complex progressive rock borrowing. While comparisons are cheap, summing up all of the sounds and moods of Wallace would be nearly impossible. So instead, I offer you this: imagine Wallace as the intersection of Andrew Bird and Frank Zappa.
As a frontman, Wallace was quiet, and only spoke to introduce his current band (a foursome comprised of a bassist, drummer, violinist, and a player who provided both flute and clarinet). Only drummer George Lawler played from memory; each of the other three musicians worked from sheet music to meet the demands of Wallace's vision. After only thirty minutes (the shortest set of the night) Wallace announced the band's final song, choosing to close with "Invisible Lines" from his most recent CD Reattachment. The track, like the rest of his work, is beautiful in its complexity and equally as complex in its beauty. This song, if for no other reason, made me glad that I had not continued on to the lake.