Straight up rock shows aren’t hard to come by, but ones that are as fun as they are chill are nearly impossible. Sure, the moshing is great and all, but sometimes you just want to hang out and listen to excellent bands do their thing. This past weekend at Subterranean, Speedy, didi, and Nnamdi (a funny rhyming coincidence pointed out by Leslie Shimizu) achieved just that. Three pretty distinct groups took to the stage, pushed through a slightly uneven mix, to do what they do best: play excellent rock songs.
didi opened up the night with their excellent tunes that were never hampered despite by SubT’s extreme sound system. While their vocals were barely coming through and their instruments were blaring past, didi managed to put on one hell of a show, pushing out some incredibly fun and noisy pop songs. Guitarist Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez started off the set honoring his Polish/Columbian heritage by speaking on Gloria Anzaldúa, making note that he is not half and half but 100% percent of both.
This declaration was followed by a wholly enjoyable set that honestly felt like it whizzed by as the four piece played with all the energy their songs deserve. “Stampede” felt like a big highlight in the middle of their time on stage, with guitarist and bassist Leslie Shimizu firing on all cylinders, drummer Sheena McGrath trouncing the drums, and Bilapka Arbelaez focusing in on the song’s grooves. Little did I realize this would be topped by the latter half which featured a bevy of new songs that made me excited for what comes next from this Columbus, Ohio collective.
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya took the center spot in the night and completely killed it. What else would you expect from this local music machine? Every one of his performances is a treat and this one more so as his energy was completely insane. His intense and explosive songs from his album Drool merge rock and hip-hop, dousing them with experimental vibes to create some of the best music Chicago has to offer. During the instant classic “let gO Of my egO”, Ogbonnaya ran through the crowd for a few lines and returned to the stage to impart some of the wisest words of wisdom you could ever hear: Ball is Life.
With a children’s basketball hoop in hand, Nnamdi tossed around a soccer ball to the crowd in hopes of them taking their shot and making a basket. Much like the set itself, not a single shot was missed. Ogbonnaya’s charisma and downright goofiness are always welcomed with opened arms. The fact that he can go from that to singing devastating songs like “Me 4 Me” , where his cries of “I want someone that will love me for me” and “I just wanna, wanna be loved” cut through you so easily, is amazing. When his time came to close, all I could think was “when’s the next Nnamdi show?” and of course “BALL IS LIFE!”
Speedy Ortiz came out to a pretty warmed up crowd and took full advantage of that. They played the first three songs of their latest release Twirp Verse (“Buck Me Off”, “Lean in When I Suffer” and “Lucky 88”) right off the bat, setting the mood perfectly with their fast paced instrumentation.Sadie Dupuis’ voice managed to get through the loud, guitar driven tunes. There was an undeniable and pristine gloss to their performance, everyone working together so seamlessly, making their songs sound all the better.It was the first time in the night where everything felt a tad more balanced, which skyrocketed Speedy Ortiz’s performance.
Their lengthy setlist was crammed into an hour of pure rock that honestly never relented. The big middle finger to harassers “Villians”, was a clear highlight of the night as Dupuis’ fury made itself known with a flawless performance. Sprinkled between new songs off of Twirp Verse were favorites off of Major Arcana, Foil Deer, and “Silver Spring” off their Sports E.P. Despite the very different lyrical direction of their new album, all the tracks fit right in with the likes of “Plough” and “Dvrk Wvrld”. The absence of more early tracks ( many of which were requested on Twitter) were excused by Dupuis due to not really remembering how to play them anymore, a little dose of honest humor that was shown throughout her talks with the crowd.
Between her rocking songs, Dupuis bolstered the crowd calling Chicago’s the nicest and most respectful drinkers. “No unwanted drunken hugs here!” she noted, a congratulation to our town, but a sad state of affairs in most other places. Her demeanor was the perfect blend of seriousness (when praising a local charity for mothers in prison) and lighthearted. After hyping up didi and Nnamdi for their excellent sets, she jokingly called them out for chewing gum on stage, admonishing whomever spat it out causing her step in it with her new white shoes.
Speedy Ortiz ended their set sans an encore, eschewing the overwrought tradition in favor of giving the fans more of the band. “We’d rather play the whole time than go up and down those twisting stairs,” she said before the final two songs . “No Below” from Major Arcana album rang as true as ever and the spectacular “Taylor Swift” b-side presented the end of the show with an explosive finale that hit the spot.
All photos by Julian Ramirez