Whether it’s troubles within the group or the difficulty in maintaining the lifestyle of a musician, it’s always a bummer to see bands disband and disappear from the limelight. But every once in a while groups get back together and treat their fans to a beautiful evening filled with those old familiar songs and maybe a few new ones. Such was the case last week at Thalia Hall when Yellow Ostrich and Voxtrot returned to perform for a devoted crowd.
I had seen Yellow Ostrich, the musical project of Alex Schaaf, perform back in 2014 as they opened for The Antlers. I was immediately a fan of their sound and was looking forward into diving into their work. Unfortunately they disbanded later that same year. In the years following there were the random posts here and there, but never a full-on comeback until last year when Alex Schaaf announced the revival of the Yellow Ostrich project. An anthology collection and a new album Soft emerged and earlier this year Schaaf toured with a full band in tow. For this set it was mostly Schaaf on stage alone, save for the final few songs where he was joined by Jared Van Fleet of Voxtrot .
The mostly one man show did not disappoint as Schaaf had the crowd smitten from the get go. While there were a few older tracks in the night like magnificent “Marathon Runner,” the set really shined brightest as the newer Yellow Ostrich songs held the spotlight. “Julia” and “Birds” off Soft were truly gentle and touching displays of Schaaf’s songwriting. “Muscle Memory” in particular hit a high spot in the great set.
When it finally came for Voxtrot to hit the stage, the already packed crowd grew. There is something to be said about a band being gone for 12 years making a return as anticipated as this one. Especially since the singer-songwriter Ramesh Srivastava brought together the original members of the band: Jason Chronis, Matt Simon, Mitch Calvert, and Jared Van Fleet. Even better was that it felt like they hadn’t missed a beat in all that time apart. They kicked off their lengthy set with “Introduction” and “Raised by Wolves”, leading the crowd headlong into night fueled with incredible songs.
While their actual performances were top notch, there were a few technical difficulties between songs, but Voxtrot dealt with them quickly and effectively, They shifted their set list from time to time as to never leave the crowd waiting without a song engulfing the venue. Srivastava introduced songs with a playful little gags leading the audience to think they were getting one song but got treated with another. “This one’s from the EP Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives” he’d say and the crowd certainly expected to hear the title track but were met with “Soft & Warm”. Whatever the case, the crowd was eating it up, enjoying every second of every song.
Save for a few rarities like “Kindergarten”, the set stuck to the most popular Voxtrot tracks. “Your Biggest Fan” sparkled as bright as you’d hope and “Raised by Wolves” almost sped by the crowd with just how easily it absorbed the crowds attention. Towards the end of their set, the anticipation for one certain song had come to a head. Everyone knew it was going to take a while for what is arguably Voxtrot ‘s most well known song to land. Srivastava prefaced the song acknowledging just how important the song is to the band and it’s fans, uttering it’s name to a small joyful murmur. Even thought the crowd was beyond excited for “The Start of Something”, their reverence for the band remained intact as Srivastava told the tale of playing a wedding the last time he was in Chicago. The couple had “The Start of Something” on one of their early mixtapes they shared and needed to have the man who wrote it sing it at their wedding. The happily married were in attendance, right at the front of the crowd, and much like the rest of the crowd were ready to be transported to the time that song meant the most to them.
“The Start of Something” was a joyous release for everyone at Thalia Hall. Every passing line of this beautiful and tumultuous love song hit the crowd in just the right spot. The song isn’t about the easiest of loves as Srivastava bellows out “Is this the end or just the start of something really, really beautiful”. It’s about trying again, returning to an old love and hoping to start again and maybe make it work. “Marianne, let the ghosts sleep tonight” he croons, hoping to let the past go and start anew.
After 12 years, Voxtrot is in the very place that amazing song is. He and the band are returning, hoping beyond hope that their past love is still around and willing to reunite. And while the song is desperately ambiguous about getting back together, is no doubt that everyone in the crowd never lost a bit of love for the band.