If you’re trying to place Letters to Cleo, yes, they are that band who play the prom and soundtrack for 10 Things I Hate About You. And, Kay Hanley was the lead singer in the Josie and the Pussycats movie. Putting that aside, this band’s influence reaches far deeper than these notable pop culture influences. This was proven at Double Door on Friday night, when flocks of fans showed up in droves (after a day filled with mass Cubs hysteria, no less) to support the four-person group after their 17-year hiatus.
Letters to Cleo just released their next batch of music, a five-song EP titled Back to Nebraska. Songs like “4 Leaf Clover” can be stashed into a category along with their best work, proving the wait was worth it. I was unsure how they’d perform in a live capacity after only listening to recordings and again, seeing them play Kat Stratford’s prom, but I was excited to find out.
The band immediately won this city over with a short “Go Cubs Go” singalong, which again made me so impressed with how many people showed up despite the day’s events. I guess we all craved a bit of ‘90s nostalgia. No longer donning ‘90s-esque hairstyles including multiple ponytails, Kay Hanley showed that her voice was as powerful as ever, seemingly grown stronger following the 17-year break. The band put on a fantastic show, featuring hits both new and old that made the crowd move, mouth the lyrics to all the songs (even those that are brand new), and give in to the unbridled joy of reminiscing on another time and place.
Songs from Nebraksa like “Hitch a Ride” were complemented by sentimental favorites including “Cruel to be Kind,” their infamous Nick Lowe cover, and “Co-Pilot.” “Here and Now” was an infinite highlight, with Hanley’s vocals absolutely nailing the almost indecipherable passages of lyrics sung at lightning speed.
It wasn’t all ‘90s memories, though; Kay Hanley called out a crowd member for texting, noting she could see the backlight illuminating this person’s face. I soon remembered that in the ‘90s, we weren’t all glued to our phones, taking videos and photos of every. Single. Moment. It was a nice reminder to set technology aside, disconnect, and revel in the human moments around us. (Yes, I’m a bit hypocritical here as I did take a short video of “Cruel to Be Kind,” but that was obligatory.)
The evening ended with a multiple-song encore, featuring old tunes as well as a cover of Scruffy the Cat’s “You Dirty Rat.” Their energy and raw talent made for a show that surpassed my expectations, as guests continued to filter to the front of the crowd until the end to indulge in Letters to Cleo of both past and present.