As I walked into The Hideout around a quarter to seven last night, I almost immediately ran into Crown Larks frontman Jack Bouboushian, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in Chicago’s music scene. Crown Larks, like the seven other bands who performed at The Hideout yesterday, were heading down to Austin for South by Southwest, playing one last show in Chicago before making the trek. Their travel schedule was looking particularly brutal–a 15-hour drive to Denton, Texas upon which the band would embark immediately after playing their 8:00 PM set. The mood in their van after the show, though, must definitely have been buoyed by the outstanding show of support by the crowd at the venue. Each of the bands reciprocated in kind.
One of the coolest things about local shows is the variety of acts that plays in any given lineup, and that was on full display at The Hideout. I arrived in time for Lionlimb‘s 7:00 PM slot of psych-lounge rock, which contrasted sharply with Crown Larks’ kraut-inspired noise, which contrasted sharply with Whitney’s polished sheen, which contrasted with Absolutely Not’s thrashing punk. Credit the audience for being open-minded; the place stayed packed throughout.
For Lionlimb, this was a true send-off show, as the band is in the process of moving permanently to New York, where they’ll undoubtedly find more bands who play their particular style of kick-back jams. Singer/guitarist Stewart Bronaugh’s voice had a smoky vibe to it, and paired with his relaxed, placid demeanor on stage, he sounded the way I’d imagine a punk singer sounds after he’s decided to stop screaming and calmly accept the world, tending to his garden like Voltaire’s Candide. The band itself was sprawled out across the stage in an informal M shape, with drummer Joshua Jaeger off to the left side of the stage and saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos standing behind and to the right of Bronaugh. I would have like to see Pitsiokos featured more prominently on the stage, though, since his noodling mumbles and florid solos packed Lionlimb’s set with a sensual energy, making otherwise-chilled songs like “Turnstile” explode in a live setting. Even so, this was not a set for dancing–it was a set for absorption, for removal from reality in the direction of a stoned afternoon spent lying on a grassy hill under a cloudy sky.
Crown Larks picked up on the absorptive aesthetic of Lionlimb and injected it with the sense of urgency and primalism that defines their sound. Bouboushian wore a dog-face t-shirt with bedazzled collar and sleeves, which weirdly seemed to fit in with the music they performed: the bedazzlement represented the psychedelic aspects of the performance–the swirling keyboards, Lorraine Bailey’s noisy, atonal sax and flute work, Bouboushian’s alternating of droning guitar leads and thunderous chords–while the dog represented the unfettered drive of Crown Larks’ rhythm section. Bassist Matt Puhr and drummer Bill Miller were in lockstep during the band’s several built-in jams, powering the music with hypnotic complexity and a steadiness that allowed for Bouboushian and Bailey to craft interesting textures atop them. “Satrap,” as usual, was a highlight of the set, Bouboushian howling passionately into the microphone at the song’s raging climax. Crown Larks will shock Austin in the best of ways.
Next up was Whitney, formed last year by drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek from the ashes of Smith Westerns. They’re already generating serious buzz on the strength of their first single, “No Woman,” a sort of spaghetti-Southern track with Ehrlich’s gentle tenor flowing above a mixture of dark, ’70s-esque soft rock and proclamatory horns. The band arranged itself on stage in a way that matched the almost orchestral nature of their music: Ehrlich sat front and center with his drum kit, surrounded by the group’s other five members. In terms of sound, Whitney landed somewhere between Chicago’s early love songs and The Eagles’ cowboy country, with Ehrlich’s falsetto reminiscent of Neil Young and Peter Cetera without the grit of the former or the melodrama of the latter. Their songs all possessed a symphonic grandeur, largely thanks to the synthetically-enhanced brass section and the perfect blend of guitar, bass, and keys over whcih Kakacek could dollop some slick leads, and an optimism you rarely see in the Chicago music scene. Perhaps a mere observer would attribute this to Ehrlich’s decidedly young-looking face; the Hideout’s MC ragged on him a bit for looking the same as he had ten years ago, and maybe to prove a point, Ehrlich took a swig from a bottle of Jim Beam between songs.
Finally, Absolutely Not completely undid the atmosphere set up by Whitney with a set of roiling punk that, unlike anything else performed up to that point, inspired some serious head-banging. Frontman Donnie Moore was an absolute attention magnet on stage, shaking his tongue and punctuating his screams with little glam-style yelps over the riotous music. Could I understand a word he was saying? Very seldomly. But the point of Absolutely Not’s set, as is the point of most punk music, was to make the audience feel liberated, and with the band’s combination of catchy hooks (they veered surprisingly towards pop-punk at times) and Moore’s boundless energy, the said liberation was easily achieved. I also took note of the dynamism provided by the variety of synth sounds Madison Moore used; what could easily have become a monotonous thudding of bass was, instead, a hint of spice thrown in below the hard-driving drums of Santiago Guerrero and Donnie Moore’s power chords.
All told, the bands that performed at The Hideout yesterday will make our city proud in Texas over the coming week–and showcase the tremendous diversity of Chicago’s music scene.