On Friday night I found myself in the hands of chaos. I was at home only 15 minutes before jumping into an Uber and heading to Schubas to see TR/ST and Lydia Ainsworth, two artists that have been perpetually on my radar. At Schubas bar I was eating and thumbing through emails before noticing something was horribly awry with my situation. Schubas was home to a different show, some country artist, and I was at the wrong place. A classic mistake. I finished my food and hopped in a second Uber. I was at Lincoln Hall and the door guy was like “Hey, you’re not on the list. Or any of my lists.” I thought: Jesus Christ, what a disaster. It wasn’t his fault and I had no ill will toward him but nonetheless it was yet another (self imposed?) road block to keep me from my goal. Thankfully it was resolved, the door guys let me in (thank you both, I did not get your names) and I slipped into the front row of the show at Lincoln Hall (not Schubas).
Jumping right into it: Lydia Ainsworth is a fascinatingly sincere performer. There’s really not another way to lead into it beyond that, then adding to it by saying that rarely do you see an artist own their own and nature their creative world so wholly. I first saw Lydia in 2017 shortly after the release of her album Darling of the Afterglow, which still stands on its own as a charming and at times beguiling piece of experimental pop music. Lydia is an artist who is unafraid of working within a world that may be otherwise limiting to artists with a lesser sense of creativity and commitment. On Afterglow she narrated a dark apocalypse that shone with glimmers of irradiated ash and light, but in her new album Phantom Forest she carefully curates the rage and ethereal, motherly voice of nature.
Much of her set comprised newer material from Phantom Forest that had just released earlier in the day. Stripped down to a two piece (from the four piece she had in 2017), Ainsworth entertained the crowd who were seemingly a mix of interested, engaged, and maybe a bit confused. Experimental pop is like that, you get some early cling-ons and you get some people who take some coaxing, then you lose some people just by being different. I encourage you all to go give her a chance.
Emerging from a wispy smoke cloud was TR/ST, the Gothy enigmatic project of Robert Alfons and his bandmates Lia Braswell and Esther Munits. TR/ST have been a rewarding project to follow for the past few years that I’ve known about them. They exist somewhere within every genre of goth or industrial dance music and nail each style effortlessly. TR/ST have been largely reclusive since their last album Joyland, playing shows or festivals here and there while edging closer to the release of their most recent album The Destroyer – 1 and their time spent away has yielded great rewards in terms of performance and in the quality of their music.
It’s tricky to talk about a band I’ve grown to love without diving head first into cliche after cliche so I’ll keep it lean. I found Alfons to be an amazing performer who dabbled the line between provocative and enigmatic effortlessly. When accompanied by Braswell’s percussion and Munits’ energy behind the synth the group form this swirling mass of dark dance music that’s fairly impossible to be swept up in. The people who were standing and talking behind me had mentioned following the band on this current tour for the past three dates, noting how Chicago was much less dance-y than other locations but how worth it was to continually see the band night after night and I can’t disagree with the assessment. Alfons moved through the smoke in a menacingly bouncy, skeletal way that was entirely attractive.
Leaving the show I was immediately swept up and wanted to return to two hours earlier before it even started. Rarely do you luck out on a two-band show with two artists who are equally engaging for different reasons. Even more rare is finding yourself wanting to repeat the experience. If either of these bands is coming to a venue near you, I can’t stress enough that you should check them out.
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