Review: Squirrel Flower Was So Good at Sleeping Village, It Hurt My Feelings

Guest review by Lorenzo Zenitsky.

My first Squirrel Flower concert and my first time at Sleeping Village were a tandem success story for the ages, and by ages, I mean for me only. For anyone who hasn’t been to a show at Sleeping Village, or even a drink for that matter, hurry on down as soon as convenience allows. From the moment I stepped in, I immediately felt at home like I was cozied up next to a warm fireplace of light and sound ready for blissful sleep. The Village felt welcoming, vibrant, spacious, and clean, all of which made for the perfect backdrop for not falling into a blissful sleep.

This thought was only made more true when I discovered that they had in their possession the most Chicago music venue staple there is: the disco ball. One glittering, twirling disco ball = one happy Lorenzo. The standing area was still filling up as Chicago duo Soft and Dumb suddenly appeared from the sidelines. To me, a two-piece band live always brings an inexplicable sense of mystery and wonder as to how they’re going to pull off their set. I haven’t checked the science, but surely it’s impossible to play music without a bass. Narrator: “It’s not.”

I missed that day in elementary school when we learned not to judge books by their cover, so from the looks of Soft and Dumb, I was expecting a sound akin to a Beach Bunny or maybe a Soccer Mommy. In a way, I was kinda right? The vocals did carry with them this melancholy, yet expressive tone like that of a Soccer Mommy or Beabadoobee, and the general sound of the band, at a high level, had this powerful punky pop energy mixed in with that relatable modern indie dread.

However, in another way, I was completely wrong in the best way possible. Y’all, Soft and Dumb are crazy with a capital 8-ball. I have never, in my life, seen a band live that felt like they could possibly go off the rails and literally explode at any given moment all while staying perfectly in sync with each other. The two were almost playing a cat-and-mouse game with each other where one would seemingly start the next measure at a completely different tempo just to mess with the other. For the entirety of their set, dissonant guitar melodies were backed by an ever-changing array of drum styles and progressions that were as catchy and melodic as they were utterly insane. Did I mention that while all this musical chaos was ensuing, they were playing in exceedingly atypical odd-time signatures the whole time? I swear, my mouth was on the floor for the entire set. Soft? Maybe. Dumb? Definitely not.

According to the vocalist of Chicago’s Dearly Somber, they played their entire set while an uneaten Arby’s roast beef sandwich was lying alone, freezing to an untimely crisp in their car. I blessed them for their sacrifice; it’s true, some heroes don’t wear capes… Dearly Somber really opened my eyes and ears to how truly amazing the sound engineering and quality are at Sleeping Village. Their sound was absolutely massive and even astonishingly heavy at parts, reminding me of the shoegaze metal stylings of the band Nothing. Their sound encapsulated a spew of '90s greats ranging from the ethereal grunge sounds of the Smashing Pumpkins to the lo-fi indie rock of Sebadoh to the soft, dreamy finesse of Slowdive. When the vocalist took a moment to take a hit from his inhaler, it pretty much summed up their whole set in an instant; unapologetic and wholesome.

At some point during Squirrel Flower ’s headlining set when she stopped to thank and give love to Sleeping Village for being as awesome five years into their life as they were when they first opened, she mentioned that she had been living in Chicago for about two years and damn, it made me really frickin’ happy to hear that being someone who still thought she lived in Boston and just toured all the time. We should all be so lucky to have such a criminally underrated singer and songwriter living amongst us mere mortals, playing shows sporadically all throughout the year in our own very large backyard!

Squirrel Flower has a very commanding presence on stage. I’ve always thought of her as such a mysterious figure in indie, an artist creating songs that are just as powerful and mystifying as they are quiet, gracious, and beautiful. I was incredibly excited for her set having been a fan of hers for the last few years since before she came out with her debut album, I Was Born Swimming; a worldly collection of dark and sultry indie folk cuts perfect for those late-night midwestern drives. So many of my favorites from that album like “Red Shoulders,” “Headlights” and the distortion-soaked pleasures of “Streetlight Blues” were nothing but picturesque live. I’m not quite sure if this show was still in support of her 2021 album, Planet (i), but we mustn't forget about that beauty here! I’m still not quite sure where I stand on the whole I Was Born Swimming vs Planet (i) debate being someone who loves to compare and contrast an artist’s work, but what I can say is that the highs of Planet (i) soar far beyond the already ridiculous highs of her first album. Tracks like “I’ll Go Running” and “Roadkill” show Squirrel Flower treading into a heavier, more road-worn sound than was ever on display on her debut while cuts like “Iowa 146” and the album closer “Starshine” give us that all too familiar sonic glimpse into her psyche that made her such a unique artist to begin with.

Truth be told, in the week leading up to the show, I became disgustingly obsessed with “I’ll Go Running” and so it brings me no pleasure giving you my biased take that that performance was the highlight of the evening, but it certainly wasn’t without some competition. Being one of the few artists I follow that have released new material so far in 2023, Squirrel Flower blessed us with a performance of her brand new single “Your Love”, a Petty-esque guitar-driven ripper of a song that will no doubt be in my favorite singles of 2023 by year’s end. Having the increasingly popular opinion that encores are stupid, Squirrel Flower closed out the night not with a whimper, but with a big ol’ bang with the song that put her on the map, the 2020 cover of Caroline Polachek’s “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings.” That cover being the first song I ever heard from her felt all too appropriate as the musical nightcap to an evening and I couldn’t have asked for a better show.

Sleeping Village won my heart that night inviting me to witness the darkened beauty and elegance that is Squirrel Flower and I shall always be in its debt. The show reminded me of what is quickly becoming my favorite aspect about showing up early to Chicago shows which is all the great local artists that you don’t hear much about and the openers for this show were some of the best I’ve heard yet. Oh, I also had this super incredible blueberry cider and saw Lili Trifilio from Beach Bunny walking around! That was pretty cool! Watch me as I go running to the next Sleeping Village show but until then, happy 5th birthday to SV and cheers to another five, and another five, and another, and another.

This review of Soft and Dumb, Dearly Somber, and Squirrel Flower' show at Sleeping Village was written by guest Author Lorenzo Zenitsky.

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Lorenzo Zenitsky

Lorenzo Zenitsky is a Chicago-based software engineer, amateur bedroom metal musician, and a semi-frequent drinker of coffee but only if it's iced. If he's not admiring his terrible Simpsons tattoos in a gently cracked mirror, he's usually at a local show vibing to great tunes and abhorrently priced beer. $15?! Get outta here...