Music

Eliot Sumner in Chicago: A musician species

With a beer in hand, an honest smile and a light soul, Eliot Sumner welcomed the audience to her Information set Thursday night at Schubas Tavern.

I only discovered the band three weeks ago, but by performance time, I was able to name every song on the set list. Standing among 50 or so fans, ranging between the ages of mid-20s to mid-70s, it felt like everybody was already friends with Sumner.

That’s just the sensation her performance and her humble stage presence gives. It was like we had already known her in a past life. And that isn’t only because most of the audience knows who her parents are.

Sumner closed the evening with an encore performance of “Species,” which seemingly alludes to a constant public speculation of her gender, and to the shadow of her parents in which she lives as an artist.

To avoid confusion, Sumner is the child of Sting and Trudie Styler, a world-famous singer and actress/director. But, quite frankly, ever since I discovered Sumner that short time ago, I never thought of her as just Sting and Styler’s daughter.

Yes, her father’s voice carries into her own, but her style is too original to resort to comparing to Sting’s. During the performance, I saw a 25-year-old musician who is making a name for herself with sounds from the ‘90s and a raw, simple stage set.

Pair that with my favorite production element – an intimate setting – and you have what I keep referring to as a friendship. Before the show, I spoke to some fans, along with people who wanted to hear something new. A Northwestern University student tagged along with his friend, who – like me – had only just discovered Sumner a couple of weeks prior. The friend who tagged along didn’t know who Sting is. They came to the show to take a breather before finals week.

Yet another fan I met Thursday night had only been introduced to Sumner a couple of weeks ago. What she looked forward to most at the concert was hearing “After Dark.” This song laments a struggle between self-awareness and desire, with lyrics such as “If I stay here, I might lose a friend.”

It seems that with Information, Sumner is debating where she stands in a friendship or relationship. In fact, the title song yearns for certainty from a counterpart. Again, packaged with a small venue like Schubas, Sumner lets us in on her questions, so clearly posed, that we all resonate with what she is feeling.

Sumner placed “Wobbler” towards the middle of the set list, which speaks to the riddance of self-awareness with violent acts. Those acts are ironic to the theme of the evening, and only to be imagined by a protagonist in a hole of regret.

To bring this effect to life, her voice travels unexpected routes up and down a minor key, and takes her audience with her. I imagined being on a calmly swaying ship during “Wobbler.”

Finally, I spoke to a fan who has ties with Sumner’s band since its time touring with Lykke Li. He promised me that after the show, it would be easy to meet the band. He was right.

Backing Vocalist and Guitarist Nick Benton asked me where the ES merch table was when Keyboardist Jan Blumentrath was asking me about Third Coast Review, and Eliot and Drummer Adam Gammage were right outside smoking their cigarettes.

When I finally approached her, I think Eliot might have put a spell on me. I met her briefly and took a selfie with her, but I haven’t been this star struck since my very first concert at age 16. Her down-to-earth personality, paired with her ridiculous talent charmed me. And she even goes to my homeland, Turkey, to work on Vaal, another project to keep a look out for.

I hope you allow Eliot Sumner to charm you the next time she comes to Chicago.

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