Junior Boys at Metro Chicago: Program Me into Light

Junior Boys (Photo: Tom Weatherhill)
Junior Boys (Photo: Tom Weatherill)

Two modest Canadian guys named Junior Boys filled Metro Chicago Wednesday night with syncopating synth pulses, and vocals that made the audience below me feel like a tide.

Behind Vocalist, Guitarist and DJ Jeremy Greenspan and Engineer Matt Didemus was a drummer who only appears during live sets. His toms, snare and acoustic cymbals give the performance a 3D feeling that you won’t hear just listening to Junior Boys’ recorded albums.

But a major theme in Wednesday’s performance that brought those sounds to life was light. Behind the drummer was a row of six white Edison light bulbs that switched on or flashed according to a song’s rhythm and melodies. The tidy strategy in which the bulbs were placed juxtaposed the scattered synth pulses in each Junior Boys song.

This was my first time seeing the band live after having wanted to since I was in high school. My favorite song at the time was “Parallel Lines,” which always made me feel like I was in a meta movie like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

Throughout the band’s performance of “Parallel Lines,” four of the six light bulbs remained turned on to demand for answers highlighted within the song’s lyrics. This protagonist feels only partially answered.

Greenspan asks, “If you found the words, would you really say them?” and begs for “A little room/to know what I’m missing in education.” The significance of lights on stage reflects Greenspan’s lament of “No lights/No show/No sex/No waits/No calls,” all indications of being stuck in darkness. This performance gives Junior Boys the chance to protest the shadow in which they’re drowning.

On the contrary, the absence of downstage light displays emotions from the band’s 2006 album, So This Is Goodbye. The use of flashing overhead spotlights during “Double Shadow” brought this production element to a literal level, as the song is an antagonistic self-reflection.

The allusion to a shadow is depicted with those alternating lights above the band, resembling street lights reflecting into a moving car’s window. Despite all the movement that’s represented through light, these lyrics show that there’s no way to escape one’s own shadow.

The light that we did see in most songs like this one was a row of blue, which emitted from below each performer’s equipment station. This could signify the transformer through which Junior Boys finds its words and power, even when locked in the dark.

In addition to performing fan favorites like “Double Shadow,” dating back to 2006, and “Parallel Lines,” back to 2009, Junior Boys also moved the hips and heads of those devoted fans he dubbed “old as [expletive]” with songs from its newest album, Big Black Coat.

Junior Boys
Junior Boys, Big Black Coat album art

In the Metro Chicago Wednesday, the collapsing of memories within Jim Carrey’s and Kate Winslet’s characters’ heads came to life. Each snare beat punched a hole through the venue’s walls, and not a single person was left standing idle.

Junior Boys unveiled the title song from Big Black Coat for its Chicago fans Wednesday. I didn’t know the name of the song until after the show when I was hungry to hear it again, so I interrupted the groove of the spectator standing next to me to find out what it was.

“I don’t know,” he said, adding, “But it’s [expletive] awesome.”

The motif that compelled me – and likely the whole audience – in “Big Black Coat,” sounded like that of the steel drum theme music from the 1996 PlayStation game, “Crash Bandicoot.” I couldn’t identify what I was comparing the riff to during the live performance, but there was something infectious about it.

Although it was exciting to hear songs I’ve listened to for years come to life in the Metro Chicago, it was an even greater delight to get to know the developed Junior Boys sound in person, and to envision the bleeps and crashes within each song.

Elif Geris
Elif Geris