Review: Stacked Lineup, Sparse Crowd at the Bottle w/ Dark Fog, Balms, Diagonal, Bow & Spear

Saturday’s show at the Empty Bottle felt very...well, empty. Despite a packed lineup of four bands, the turnout was less than stellar. Of course these nights do happen; whether it’s because of the cold, competing local events, or other factors, we’ve all been to a show that just doesn’t draw as many people as expected. In the beginning, there was hope. The night was still young when local band Bow & Spear took the stage. Having listened to their excellent 2017 release, Bad at Fun, I was really looking forward to seeing them play live. The four-piece did deliver on bringing heavy, distorted guitars harkening back to the great sound of '90s alt-rock and shoegaze. But there were moments where they seemed unsure of themselves, and it showed. Perhaps it was just being first up for the night, but the music was slightly overshadowed by a somewhat nervous performance. Up next was another local act, Diagonal. With a touch of dark psychedelia and elements of new wave, they injected a dose of energy with some jammy bangers that had a lively couple dancing hard in the front row. This was much appreciated by the frontman, and he soon lost himself in the moment too. Sadly, their set was plagued by a few technical difficulties and there was a distinct lack of projection and tone with the bass. Unfortunately, this happened during a song that relied heavily on the low end, resulting in an anemic sound that didn’t do it justice. Balms took the stage half way through the night, just as the crowd started to become more sparse. Nevertheless, the San Francisco trio appeared unaffected and carried on with a solid, beautifully dark set. Currently on tour in support of their brand new LP, Mirror, their passion for the new material was infectious for the lucky ones that remained in the audience. Playing tracks from the new album such as “Bones” and “Candle” allowed them to flex their ability to effortlessly blend heavier, distorted rhythms with a softer shoegaze sound. Although their songs can still be described as lush and dreamy, Balms stood out as the group that had more of a mature, grounded sound compared to the other acts that fall more on the floaty end of the spectrum. Dark Fog closed out the night with everything you would want and expect from a psych rock band, complete with a fog machine and trippy multi-colored lighting for their record release party for the new album, Make You Believe. Although the herd thinned significantly at that point, the veterans of the Chicago music scene still churned out indulgent psychedelic jams. The drumming was particularly intricate and solid, taking a page from masters like Mitch Mitchell with a frenetic, jazzy style that paired well with the murky wall of sound from the guitars. Despite all of this, there was still a lack of energy and the vibe felt mostly uninspired considering the occasion, which left a lot to be desired. Overall, the night could best be described as “low key,” but it frankly felt a little awkward. That’s not to say that the music wasn’t good--each band technically played well, and those who stuck around enjoyed the music. But there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in the room that cast a shadow over the bands that was unfortunately not deserved.
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Jennifer Roger