How exactly does one make an arena holding thousands of people feel like an intimate affair? Much like the arena itself, this is no small task. It takes more than a run through the crowd or a gimmick move to a smaller stage to achieve such an effect (both of which were utilized at this show). You need a real sense of sincerity behind those techniques in order to get them to connect in a special way with the crowd. Luckily, everyone on stage at Allstate Arena last Friday night had that quality in droves and the talent to hold it all up throughout the evening. Im fact there was a much needed balance between quiet intimacy and grandiose presentation in the evening as Margaret Glaspy, Andrew Bird, and The Luminners delighted the packed arena.
Starting up the night was Margaret Glaspy and her band, who I initially thought the setting wasn’t the best for the trio on stage. Their presence felt more suited to smaller venue like Schubas, where she will actually be playing a sold out show on the 29th. Glaspy and her band did more than enough to fill the arena with their sound but they looked tiny on that half covered stage. However, after a few songs and some nice lighting cues any misgiving about their stage presence disappeared and they came into their own.
Glaspy’s songs have an undeniably gripping quality to them. Her voice is raspy and smokey, a quality reminiscent of Liz Phair coupled but with the cadence of Joni Mitchel,. This match excels when Glaspy’s lyrics delve into more personal and deeply introspective thoughts. With every harsh growl her body recoiled and gently swayed back to her spot, giving songs like “Memory Street” and ” Love Like This” all the anger and heartbreaking power they deserve. She hit a perfect high point with “You and I”, which underlined her set with her strong guitar and and endless empathy coming from her voice. It was later joked that only a small fraction of the audience would be able to see her at Schubas the following week, but that crowd will be in for an incredible treat.
Andrew Bird may not have been the headliner of the evening, but his performance would beg to differ. His time wasn’t filled with the big displays that would later take up the stage, instead it was an understated beauty that surrounded Bird and his band while they performed flawlessly. Bird came out to the darkened stage, smoothly bowing his violin. As the sounds grew so emerged the lighting from underneath Bird, casting a long shadow on his back drop. His motions were meticulous and above all as beautiful as the music emanating from them. “Capsized” got things going with such unbridled flair, establishing the a benchmark for his set that he would repeatedly meet and surpass with every song.
The lights grew bright and colorful to reveal the center piece of the background: the Janus double horn speakers, which flowed between standing motionless and spinning with hypnotizing speed, unleashing their sounds with voracious enthusiasm that was matched by Bird and the band. “Three White Horses” in particular had the speakers moving so quickly they looked as if they would take off with the band playing on unaware. “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” and “Tenuousness” showcased Bird’s marvelous lilt and his whistling prowess.
Bird’s nine song set spanned his discography with deft precision. The setlist acted as a wonderful crescendo, every song seed off the previous, building on Bird and his band’s extraordinary skill. Throughout the set Bird switched between violin and guitar effortlessly showing his versatility, like when joyous melodies of “Roma Fade” gave way to “Plasticities” infectious structure. “Pulaski at Night”, Bird’s sublime love letter to Chicago, was easily the most anticipated song of his performance. Fans quietly hoped for it, but it was a given that he would perform this masterpiece of a song to this massive audience. Bird’s voice resonated so gracefully and full of life, giving this hometown audience an amazing gift. “Danse Caribe” followed with its lofty chorus “mistaking clouds for mountains” settling on everyone’s mind.
With that morning’s inaugural festivities stench still looming, it was no surprise that Bird had something to say. Although Bird didn’t stop his performance to overtly preach his message, noting that was not the purpose of this fun evening, he did make his sentiments known. His final song “Tables and Chairs”, a song that Bird explained was of an apocalypse that made everyone finally try and speak to each other, set the table for his distaste in the current political climate. The song was written over a decade ago and its unchanged lyrics were prophetic of a frightening time. Bird went on to say he changed the lyrics slightly, which ended up being a short verse added in speaking of real estate empires built on lies, making the song feel more urgent of the present than weary of the future. It was an ideal final song that certainly had an impact on the crowd.
When it came time for The Lumineers’ set, a large black cloth divider was placed between the crowd and the stage while it doubled in size. As the group began to play “Submarines” and the cloth dramatically dropped to reveal the bright shimmering stage adorned with metal structure hanging in the background, it was obvious that this was going to be something big. Given their continually rising success, it was expected. Typically, I think the best time to see a band is during their second album’s tour. Their following will have grow, it’s the best opportunity to hear as many of your favorite songs you want, and the band will be more polished performers. The Lumineers lived up to that assessment early on as they plowed through some of their most recognizable songs. “Flowers in Your Hair”, “Ho Hey”, and “Cleopatra” followed each other in rapid succession, giving the whole night a feeling of grandness.
As big as everything was, with the blasts of streamers and confetti late in the show, The Lumineers couldn’t help but reminisce of the past where a venue like Subterranean was their host. Lead singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz explained he wanted to bring some of that intimacy to the arena, and would do so by playing on a small stage at the center of the crowd. Now if we’re being honest, that stage with its immense lighting rig that shifted around from above was probably the size of SubT itself, but they managed to pull off some of the closeness they aspired to. The songs they performed more emotional and heartfelt, obviously by design but still maintaining sincerity. “Where the Skies are Blue” soared magnificently in this setting and the anti war “Charlie Boy” rang at its truest. Later in the evening, during “Ophelia”, Schultz ran through the crowd and it didn’t feel forced or disingenuous. It was fun more than anything else.
Much like Bird earlier, Schultz didn’t do a lot of in your face political preaching. While it definitely would have been nice if went full force into the discussion like the folk musicians he seems to be inspired by, Schultz instead alluded to his opinions all night. It was never more obvious than on “Big Parade”. The song’s original lyrics which feature a line about a blue eyed boy evoke JFK, but Schultz knew that they would bring to mind someone else that night. So what once was a line that could have been interpreted positively was changed: “Oh my my oh hey hey, here he comes the candidate, blue eyed boy of real estate, I didn’t vote for him, the candidate”. The crowd’s pop was loud and affirmative, agreeing wholeheartedly and drowning out any disagreement (if there even was any to be heard).
The Lumineers’ ended their evening at Allstate Arena with a fitting three song encore . “Long Way from Home” from the band’s latest album Cleopatra started off the finishing set as a welcome refresher. They brought out Andrew Bird to assist for the second song of the encore, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The song was transformed to fit with The Lumineers’ signature exuberant folk, losing a little bit of the edge of the original, but still felling necessary as Bird’s strings filled out the cover excellently. As Schultz and Bird embraced and the show finally felt like it was winding down, there seemed to have been something missing. Having played the majority of their first album’s hits early on in the set, there was clear omission from the night. Then the familiar opening chords of “Stubborn Love” wrapped around everyone’s ears and a loving roar erupted from the audience. The uplifting continuous chorus of “Keep your head up” dazzled with the bright twinkling sparks that fell onto the stage and remnants of confetti still floating around. The Lumineers’ left the crowd with all they had, blending the intimacy and majesty of the night, and it all felt just right.
Photos by Julian Ramirez