Review: Masks, Wigs and 1960s Costumes: It’s Not Halloween, It’s Jonathan Bree

It’s a treat when you connect with two opening acts but quite rare for both to give you chills. It says a lot that they left a mark at all after Jonathan Bree’s tightly choreographed, trance-inducing performance complete with eerie white spandex masks, wigs and ‘60s-era costumes. Brooklyn’s Shilpa Ray and Andrew Sa, a Chicago transplant from San Francisco, delivered a pair of arresting performances that shook me and surprised me more than any in a long while.

Sa, a dream in denim, cowboy hat and sequined bow tie, was a sight for sore eyes while crooning sweetly moody western songs. He’s a bit of an Internet ghost, but turns out he’s a regular at psychedelic Hideout series the Cosmic Country Showcase.

In between gripping renditions of Patsy Cline classics—“Now you can go home and tell your grandparents you saw a queer boy sing ‘Crazy’”—Sa lent some insight into where he found his pipes. His mom used to own a karaoke company and would have the kids warm up the crowd. “Imagine little eight-year-old me singing to a bar full of drunks!” Sa is currently recording his debut album, but while we wait, he’ll be posting upcoming shows and news on Instagram @lonesomeandrew.

Ray was a different sort of dream in jumpsuit, fierce cropped hair and glittery cheekbones, massaging a beautiful harmonium worked effortlessly into most of the set. Backed by only a percussionist, it was a raw collection ranging from intimate, wandering ballads to punk rock-bluesy hybrids elevated each time with her signature howl.

A few songs in, she abruptly paused after beginning a verse, forgetting the lyrics. “Sometimes you have those moments when things aren’t coming together … but then you just change the set.” And within seconds, transferring to the keyboard, that’s exactly what she did. It was a special moment to witness—organic, honest and handled smoothly like the pro she is. Ray has undergone several iterations throughout her multi-year career like an early stint with Her Happy Hookers. Now she has two solo records under her belt, including 2017’s Door Girl, which she played from on Sunday. A standout was the six-minute piano-heavy “You’re Fucking No One” with an opening line that rattles with you for a while: “In 1983 I saw you naked on the street.” 

The trippiest dream of all was none other than New Zealand-based Bree, who entered the Sleeping Village stage in full, pantomime character followed by his four-piece mannequin-like crew. Bree has been at it since the 1990s, founding his own label, Lil’ Chief Records, and forming The Brunettes with “a bunch of indie guys that liked Pavement and the Modern Lovers.” The band took off after morphing into a charming pop duet group with Heather Mansfield that eventually got signed to Sub Pop, dissolving nine records later in 2010.

Bree’s solo act has certainly taken more of an experimental, theatrical turn. Last year’s Sleepwalking—and particularly “You’re So Cool,” which has racked up 13 million YouTube views—arguably has turned the most heads, drawing listeners in to a bizarre nostalgic world with swirling, orchestral arrangements and Bree’s brooding tenor. It’s one thing to watch on a screen, but experiencing it in-person is a wild ride: you’re fascinated, perplexed, even uncomfortable at times, but it’s impossible to look away.

All photos courtesy of Juan Montano

Jessica Nikolich
Jessica Nikolich

Jessica Nikolich was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. After going to journalism school in Columbia, Missouri, and working at a small-town Michigan newspaper on the banks of Lake Huron, she’s back for good to soak up as much live music, culture and craft beer as humanly possible. Her writing can be found in Chicago magazine and Chicago Innerview Magazine. In the real world, Jessica is a marketing specialist at a law firm and survives her CTA commutes binging podcasts.

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