How does House of Vans do what they do? I thought to myself as I watched concertgoers flood into the House of Vans concert venue, housed in a warehouse space at 113 N. Elizabeth St., just on the outskirts of the West Loop’s hustle and bustle. What I mean is—how does this company put on these shows around the world, featuring world-renowned acts, completely for free?
I respect it, I admire it, and after my first time at a House of Vans show on Friday night, I’m a believer in the process. Fans streamed in one by one, grabbing a free beer at the Goose Island bar before finding a spot in the crowd.
True Blue, the project of Porches bassist Maya Laner, started things off with a synth pop set that set the mood of the night early on. Despite a few technical hiccups, True Blue was able to hook the crowd with amix of big expressive stage presence (at one point dramatically applying eye-drops to mimic tears for one song) and a pristine voice.The crowd seemed all in on the performance, dancing to the poppy tunes.
I stood on the outskirts, taking it all in as Shamir Bailey began his set. The last stop on his tour, he brought out all the stops for his 45-minute set, with glitter on his face, colorful hair ties on, and a grit that I hadn’t seen before with his first EP Ratchet. On “Straight Boy,” Shamir wailed out the line “Straight boys ruin my life,” as concertgoers cheered while the guitar riff went on and on.
The performance was expressive and emotive. He instructed us to cut out toxic friends (okay, will do!), and played mostly new material. Gone are the days of “Call It Off” and “On The Regular” (much to my dismay, as I was banking on dancing to the former); here we see a new Shamir. He’s grittier now, growling and wailing throughout songs that pack quite the emotive punch. Hooks are more rock than pop, yet the core of the lyrics remains the same. He hit many a falsetto note before we welcomed Unknown Mortal Orchestra to the stage.
A TV displayed graphics that were broadcast onto a screen behind the band, creating a groovy backdrop that several said reminded them of Instagramable, Urban Outfitters-esque scenes. The New Zealand-based band opened with “From The Sun,” as lead singer Ruban Nielson waded out into the crowd and up to the VIP balcony without missing a beat. (Just moments before, a concertgoer seated next to me on a skateboarding ramp said “He’s going to go up into the balcony, I just know it!). It was clear from the get-go that this show was going to be immersive. The group really wanted us to feel like we were a part of it all.
By “Ffunny Ffriends,” crowdsurfers were making moves. The group waded through more familiar hits like “Not In Love We’re Just High,” where one such crowdsurfer got pulled out of the crowd as Nielson was standing amid them, plus “Hunnybee” and “Multi-Love.”
“This one’s good to dance to,” Nielson said to a packed house, grinning—but the crowd, they were dancing the entire time and didn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
Summer is starting to wind down and that means that this amazing series of shows is about to end. On August 8th, Wolf Parade, Torres, and LaLa LaLa will be taking over House of Vans for the last show in this year’s Vans House Parties series! Don’t miss out on this fantastic show and venue, you can RSVP for your free tickets now. Get there early and enjoy this fantastic summer series!
All photos by Julian Ramirez