When you think of a Chicago music festival, events like Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest typically come to mind. But for over a decade, Tomorrow Never Knows has been resurrecting the festival experience in the dead of our generally cold, dark winters. For five days, TNK draws top independent artists as well as comedians to venues across the city. This year, Schubas hosted four brilliant musical acts on Saturday night–Slow Mass, Little Junior, Melkbelly and No Age.
Local act, Slow Mass, kicked things off with a fierce and cohesive set. The foursome brought bursts of energy and aggression that were reminiscent of 90s era artists such as Polvo and even pseudo math rock elements of Pinback. Bassist and singer Mercedes Webb’s effortlessly transitioned between melodic vocals and aggressive screams while guitarist, Josh Sparks, shook his guitar violently by the amp to evoke some serious haunting feedback.
Little Junior, a Toronto-based quartet, followed with pop-punk harmonies and cheeky, whimsical style.
“This song is for my boyfriend, Ryan Gosling,” singer Rane Elliott-Armstrong declared before launching into a relatively short, but danceable track from their upcoming debut, Hi, slated for release later this year.
Although on the surface their songs are energetic and fun, the lyrics are unapologetically direct and angsty as heard in the stealth banger, “Accolades.”
“I’ll bite my tongue/I’ll change my tone/Maybe then you’ll like me/Maybe then you’ll take me seriously” calls out bias in the music scene, contrasting the seemingly upbeat vibe of the music.
Enter: Melkbelly–Chicago’s foremost heavy noise act and one of the most anticipated bands of the night. From that point on, earplugs were a must, especially for anyone positioned right at the front of the stage.
Their debut album Nothing Valley released in October of last year features a mix of methodical chaos and dreamy vocals. Unfortunately, the vocals were overall hard to hear for every band, but all of the instruments were (super) loud and clear. Nevertheless, Miranda Waters maintained a cool and confident demeanor as she chugged heavy riffs alongside ferocious drumming and pinpoint shredding from guitarist, Bart Winters.
LA’s No Age, the headliner of the night, delivered an excellent set of older material like “Teen Creeps” and “Glitter” as well as new material from their upcoming LP, Snares Like A Haircut. The tracks from the new album are a perfect blend of everything they’re known for; from the chill, ethereal effects on “Send Me” to the faster, distorted drenched “Soft Collar Fad”, the new songs were in complete harmony with all of the fan favorites.
Randy Randall–pedal board wizard–evoked massive walls of sound, mixing distortion and loops that create such a full guitar sound. Drummer and vocalist, Dean Spunt, upped the ante with consistent, high energy drum beats and a even bit of silliness during an interlude. And true to their punk roots, Randall jumped down into the audience mid-set, dripping with sweat and engaging with everyone at the front of the stage.
One of the great things about No Age is their DIY approach to how they make music and interact with fans. After their set, they graciously chatted with a number of attendees and happily signed items at the merch table. I myself was lucky enough to snag one of Dean’s drum sticks and a signed copy of the new record with a sticker that says, “Digital Download Not Included!”
In an era of high commercialism and pretension, Saturday night’s lineup was a refreshing showcase of independent roots–just good music, good people, and a damn good time.
This year’s Tomorrow Never Knows fest may be over now, but you can find a list of performances and a mixtape over at the TNK website for an idea of what to expect for next year.