There’s nothing better to break up the usually dreary January days like Tomorrow Never Knows festival. TNK brings five days of shows to some great local venues (including Metro, smartbar, Hideout, Lincoln Hall, and Schubas), letting their mix of local flavor with amazing touring acts grab a hold of music starved Chicagoans. Usually these shows are so overwhelmingly stacked with some of the best bands out there and thankfully this year carried on that lofty goal. Take for example the Friday nights how at Schubas where Snail Mail, Stef Chura, Ratboys, Lomelda, and Bunny put on amazing show for one of the most stacked TNK nights.
Those that came early were treated to one of Chicago’s most talented and endearing musical groups: Bunny. The band, which is primarily the musical project of Jessica Viscius, has quickly become one of my favorites thanks to their graceful tunes underlined by Jessica’s soothing voice. Bunny’s sound is a hazy throwback that becomes more entrancing the more you hear it, from lyrics that are often biting and so reflective to instrumentation that methodically drips into place. “I Wanna be Your Dog” is the shining example of this slow burn that won’t stop even once the song is over. Bunny is charming between songs, cranking out Britney Spears knock-knock jokes and continuing the running gag of an honest to goodness album being released well into the future (this time 2020). That far off date is funny if not a little soul crushing. This world needs a Bunny album in it as soon as possible to serenade us with its beautifully candid melancholy.
I wasn’t totally prepared for just how riveting Lomelda‘s sound would hit me live, but as Hannah Read’s tender voice reached out with the opening lines of “Interstate Vision” (“Wrapped your arms around me, I’ll be still), I was completely laid out. Read handled her set with a tranquil command, allowing her poetic lyricism, full of longing and sadness, to soar with melodies that immediately envelop you. Most of Lomelda’s set was quiet and thoughtful but throughout a few of her songs, Read’s contemplative playing would erupt in powerful fits that poured out their every emotion within them. Her face ached with urgency, her hands rushed manically over the guitar’s strings, pulsing songs like “Brazos River” in completely ethereal realms. Read just has a way of creating these masterful songs that stick with you, landing a punch that you’ll feel days later.
Ratboys took the middle spot of the night and tore it to shreds with their explosive set. Schubas was at the peak of it’s crowdedness at this point, making for one rowdy and devoted crowd. With Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan energetic moves taking the spotlight, Ratboys burst out in a fun and riveting style. Steiner in particular looked like she was having the time of her life, especially when the crowd lost themselves with “Elvis in the Freezer”. It’s not surprising that this song is so universally loved, mixing the heartache of losing a pet with up beat instrumentals that extenuate the need to move on. Towards the end of the set, “Control” and “Crying About The Planets” played right after the other, surging the crowd once again with their ecstatic noise filling up every inch of Schubas.
Stef Chura‘s set was slightly delayed due to a blown amp, which made the realization that Will Toledo was playing guitar in her band much less of a surprise than an anxious excitement for the set to start. Chura took no time in setting the tone with her unique and utterly visceral voice pushing out songs like “Method Man” and “Slow Motion” out into the crowd with all the attitude they need. She later explain Toledo’s presence: he’s helping her work on her next album, which is being recorded in Chicago. The prospects of this are quite exciting as the new songs she played fit right in line with Chura’s loose guitar and exuberant vocals. “Spotted Gold” felt like a nice high point in a set that was punctuated with “Speeding Ticket, closing out Stef Chura’s excellent performance.
I first saw Snail Mail when they opening for Waxahatchee and was left stunned by the young group’s stage presence and sheer musical ability. Even having been prepared for just how good they are, this set still superseded my expectations. Maybe it was the more intimate venue, maybe it was Lindsey Jordan’s blue cowboy shirt, but something felt different. Snail Mail is just at the beginning of their career, but they seemed even more confident than some veteran musicians, playing songs both old and new as if they had been for decades.
Snail Mail’s lo-fi sound is incredibly tight and intense, weaving thoughtful lyrics that take a strong look at being young and not really knowing what to do with yourself. “Thinning” plays with the idea of wasting time with such an enjoyable swerve from Jordan’s ornate guitar that her repeating near-coda of “I don’t think there’s anything wrong” sounds so right. That eternal ennui is only made all the more interesting as Jordan drifts further in it, like in the at home literalness of “Static Buzz”, or pushes against it all.the metaphorical “Slug”. Snail Mail as unit works these songs to their euphoric peaks live, making every moment feel special and easy to get lost in.
As they began to tear down, guitar cases open and their instruments for half way inside, the hope yells of the crowd continued on. Jordan initiated an impromptu huddle deciding to play one final song, one that Jordan admitted they’ve never actually played, but we’re going to give it their best. The familiar notes of “Closing Time” echoed through Schubas and all you could see were the smiles on the faces of the crowd and the band. Everyone was beaming during the unexpected and undeniably sweet moment. The whole song felt a little crazy as lyrics were messed up or merely mumbled through and I don’t think anyone really cared. It was a joyous and care fee ending to long night of amazing and satisfying music.
All photos by Julian Ramirez