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Schubas Was Mesmerized by Rafiq Bhatia & Ian Chang’s Intense Performances

A few weeks ago I saw Son Lux perform at Lincoln Hall. Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang, were tackling the collaborative songs with all the energy in the world. Like every Son Lux show, it was an exceptional experience. To think that Chang and Bhatia would return to Chicago a mere two weeks later and give solo performances that could top what they individually did with Son Lux would be asking for the world, and that’s exactly what they gave the Schubas crowd last week.

Ian Chang’s opening set was something to behold. Before even settling into his drum kit he warned the crowd of the flashing lights and the intensity that would follow. Normally a laugh would have been had, but the gentle caution of Chang’s voice assured the audience that he was not only serious, but looking out for us. What followed was a carefully orchestrated explosion of lights, meticulously followed backing tracks, and percussion that shook the very foundation of every person in attendance. Chang exhilarating playing, which is always accompanied but audible grunts and heavy breathing, was made the focus of the set even as flashes of light engulfed him.

Every element of the show intensified as the set when on. Chang’s rapid drum beats made his body movements a blur even to the naked eye. The individual sequences of color blasts, sometimes a red, blue and a harsh colorlessness white, became a rainbow for the final song. It was hard not to be amazed by the show. By the end, Chang was practically drenched in sweat, having put everything he could into the performance.

Rafiq Bhatia’s set emerged much more serenely, as if it were a meditation guided by his deft hands gliding through his guitar’s strings. There was no lull as his songs began their mission of mesmerizing the crowd. to say he was successful would be an understatement as the jazzy and experimental sounds were easy to sink into. Playing music off his new album Breaking English, Bhatia settled into a groove that wouldn’t let up during his just shy of an hour set.

Bhatia’s instrumentation, along with Jackson Hill on bass Chang returning to back him on drums, had a liquid flow throughout. I could barely tell what had been expertly rehearsed sections and what had been done right off the cuff. During one song, Bhatia threaded a dollar bill between his guitar strings to elicit the exact sound he needed. Bhatia’s songs have that quality of sounding absolutely perfect; yet have the feeling of immediacy and intimacy that can only come from spontaneous creation.

Between bouts of stoic entrancement, Bhatia would tear into his guitar and jam out with a ferocity that was utterly palpable. The two sides of his performance worked together in perfect balance, mirroring much of his compositions, giving equal about of weight to all sides of his music. This was illustrated wonderfully towards the end of the set, when Bhatia performed a song so new “so fresh it doesn’t even have a name.” It was a sprawling and intense as you could hope. Bhatia is showing no signs slowing down his creative output, and we’re all the better for it.

After the show, Chang and Bhatia roamed the crowd and talked with friends and fans, both new and old. There was no separation between the bands and the crowd, it felt like just a hangout after a fantastic show. Ian Chang, Jackson Hill, and Rafiq Bhatia’s music cultivated a nice community, something that more concerts should strive for.

All photos by Julian Ramirez

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