Review: The Garden’s Giant Jester Helps Local Youth Forget their Frostbite

In my research of The Garden, I found a ton of information regarding their long history and deeply personal inspirations. The more I’ve come to know, the more I appreciate their experimental and strangely familiar music. Twins Wyatt and Fletcher Shears formed The Garden in 2011 while both working on their own side projects, respectively. I assume that they had either just graduated or were graduating high school that same year, which is why it is particularly impressive to me that the band is still kicking 11 years later. The Garden's sound throughout the years has evolved so much, yet they stay dedicated and are consistently successful with each new album. Their name represents both siblings as individual musicians and together as a band growing and changing the way a garden does. I hate to generalize about emotional maturity, but it’s worth noting that I think the concept alone of The Garden is emotionally mature beyond their 29 years, even more so knowing it all began when they were just 18 years old. There is so much more to be said about The Garden’s roots and inspirations, but this is a concert review, so I will quell my need to deep-dive aggressively into those aspects of this band.  

I tend to be fashionably late to most concerts I have the privilege to attend—but I planned for wiggle room last Friday evening in hopes of reaching the photo pit of Metro in time for Machine Girl to open for The Garden. The all-ages show was sold out, which meant security screenings would be strict and thorough; I expected to wait in line for a while. What I did not expect was a line of ticket-holding teenagers snaking around the triangular block hours before doors opened. I later found out that at 11am that morning, folks queued up in 20-degree weather, which only dropped as the day turned to night, just to be first in line for merch and secure a front row spot during the show.

The crowded line grew all the way around the block’s north corner and down Racine Avenue throughout the day. I assumed the line would resolve soon after the block's first bend, but instead found that it looped all the way around the block, nearly long enough to form an infinite line-circle. Thankfully, I found a parking space where I could observe the snail-paced movement of people shuffling inside. I wasn’t dressed to stand for hours in the bitter wind and cold but would have been forced to brave the weather if the line got any longer. I arrived around 6pm and eventually joined the end of the frozen-fan line around 8:25pm. Machine Girl played 30 minutes later than originally scheduled but I still missed their entire set. The schedule change allowed for about 70% of the people I observed waiting from 6pm till even just before 8:15pm to trickle in and catch at least a small part of their set. I appreciated the extra time, it helped me respectfully wiggle my way to the stage through hordes of exuberant and thawed-out young people before The Garden took Metro's stage.

The audience for Friday's show was unlike most I’ve seen in Chicago. Based on the turnout, I would describe the Garden as having predominantly young (under 21) listeners who are on the cultish side. Some people were dressed up in jester attire but most who showed up ready to party just wore face makeup that resembled what Fletcher and Wyatt have been wearing for most live shows since 2016. I wanted to yell out the classic Insane Clown Posse “whoop whoop!” but thought better of it. The chances of anyone in my immediate vicinity understanding the reference were slim to none and few would’ve heard me over the classical piano track flooding the venue—an interesting and theatrical choice for house music. The Garden’s stage plot includes a drum riser and giant inflatable jester; a character present throughout their discography and a very real, massive thing that loomed over the stage right as it rapidly inflated, reaching at least 9 feet tall. The band has been known to bring a massive puppet jester to shows as well, but I was personally relieved to see the inflatable one instead.

Remembering their entrance now, I wouldn’t have known the two siblings were twins because they differentiate themselves so heavily with their individual style and makeup. Fletcher perched on the drum riser wearing a Dishcharge T-shirt while Wyatt stood in trench-coat and cowboy boot-clad glory holding a bass that hung low from its strap. The crowd behind me went berserk when The Garden opened their set with “Haunted House on Zillow”, a heavily UK-punk influenced tune off their newest album and this tour’s namesake, Horseshit on Route 66. “OC93” and “Call This # Now” followed, and with them came moshing and crowd surfing. I was slightly confused by the obsessive commotion because the energy on stage for the first three songs was tame and seemed almost removed from the crowd. The twins have an obvious bond and frequently locked eyes communicatively throughout the show, creating a feeling of anticipation.

When addressing the audience, it was only with quick song introductions and an occasional comment here and there. Even though their energy was unexpected, I was surprised at how natural it felt to hear many instruments but only see bass and drums live with tracks filling in the rest. It wasn’t as distracting as I feel it should have been. The Garden's presence on stage was strange, a little creepy, and intoxicating. As soon as my time in the photo pit ran out, Fletcher came out from behind the drums to hop on the mic with Wyatt and the energy of the room amped up even more.

I was standing on the balcony sometime after escaping the incredibly cramped main floor of the Metro when The Garden introduced “Squished Face Slick Pig Living in a Smokey City”. At least ten people abandoned the safety of the balcony to charge the existing mosh pit at a concerning speed to get in on the action downstairs. Besides Horseshit on Route 66, the set list included songs from Kiss My Super Bowl Ring (2020), Mirror Might Steal Your Charm (2018), and haha (2015). As a last song before encore, they played the 2019 single, “Thy Mission” featuring Mac DeMarco, which was the most recognizable song to me besides the King of the Hill theme song cover they snuck in toward the beginning of their set. The Garden came back on stage to finish with a 2-song encore of “Clay”, the only song included off U Want The Scoop? (2017), and “Banana Peel” from Mirror Might Steal Your Charm.

Overall, I think that the Metro may have oversold this show. If I were a regular fan who bought tickets to see The Garden on Friday, I may have been disappointed by the experience. It was nearly impossible to even get into the venue after showing up at a reasonable time and once inside, it was too packed for anyone's comfort which I imagine includes the staff and artists. I did, however, very much enjoy seeing The Garden live for the first time and am grateful to have experienced their show in such an intimate venue. Because of this show, I found several new artists and an entire genre to explore.

The follow-through and talent Wyatt and Fletcher demonstrate together in The Garden is ever present in their separate, personal musical careers as well. Enjoy and Puzzle are both unique, genre-defying projects that showcase Wyatt and Fletcher's unique personal expressions. The two siblings create music so impossible to label that they had to create their own genre altogether, which they call Vada Vada. The term represents freedom of expression without guidelines or boundaries; it also belongs to a mysterious, supposedly India-based record label. The label’s social media presence describes the overarching term Vada Vada as “a song, a genre, a lifestyle, a dance, a universe”. Under the label, artists with similarly mysterious, genre-bending, and cult-like vibes including Slayter, Cowgirl Clue, and 3L3D3P are produced and promoted.

Speaking as an observer and from my personal experience with creatives, Wyatt and Fletcher Shears seem to be a quietly eccentric pair who may find interviews challenging, boring, or perhaps uncomfortable. However, Epitaph Records interview with The Garden for their 2020 Album Kiss My Super Bowl Ring is by far the best interview I've seen or read with them. Their answers reveal so much about their creative process and the interview style meets them where they reside – on another level entirely. If any of Third Coast Review's readers are as interested in The Garden as I was after their show at the Metro in Chicago, I recommend watching the 6-minute interview linked above.

All photos by Shaela Johnston

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Shaela Johnston

Shaela is a West-Coast born freelance photographer and writer, relatively new to Chicago as of 2021. Specializing in live music photography, Shaela can be found attending concerts several times a week when she isn't traveling or working on her Bachelor's degree. In her free time she listens to metal, hardcore, hip-hop, and likes to chill at home with her hairless cat named Soup and wife Courtney.