Review: Jawny Plays the Headline Show of His Dreams at Thalia Hall

I was part of the chosen few who decided the best way to spend my St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago was to go see JAWNY and Wallice at Thalia Hall instead of signing up for a liver transplant and getting my will in order. Well, actually, to be fair I originally only went to this show for Wallice, one of indie pop’s brightest new stars and also one of my personal favorite artists creating today. I saw her perform her first Chicago headline show at Schubas in November of last year and she basically played her entire discography plus a Gwen Stefani cover for good measure; it was awe-inspiring, to say the least. I quickly caught up with JAWNY’s discography before the show Friday night and really dug a lot of what I was hearing, especially songs from his debut full-length album released earlier this month, It’s Never Fair, It’s Always True. After listening to all his music, it was strikingly apparent why he asked Wallice to open for him on this tour as they share some very notable similarities and seem to come from the same musical background drawing inspiration from acts like Weezer, MGMT, and The Strokes. JAWNY also has great hair so I decided why not just go to the show and see what all the fuss is about. I’m very glad I did.

The majority of the sold-out crowd was in attendance ready to rock when Wallice and her band swarmed the stage and broke into “90s American Superstar”, the title track to her most recent EP that came out in May of 2022. It’s an excellent opener for many reasons but one, in particular, is that it showcases entirely what Wallice is about from the song’s grunge-soaked guitar rhythms to its driving percussion to the sardonic, and oftentimes self-referential lyrics that act as the icing on the cake. She went on to play 4 of the 5 tracks off her recent EP with highlights being my absolute favorite Wallice track, “Rich Wallice”, “Little League”, and Wallice’s favorite Wallice song, “Funeral”, where she sings about how exactly she’d like her open-muscle-car-casket funeral to go down.

Even though I love Wallice and her musical performance Friday night was great, her stage presence felt a little formulaic, rehearsed, and rushed compared to the very relaxed and comfortable Wallice I saw at Schubas late last year. There’s definitely something to be said about performing your own headline gig compared to opening for someone else’s, but it was still something that was very noticeable to me and made me yearn for the rich and flawless headliner Wallice. As for surprises, she graced us with performances of a couple of new songs, one she said should be out later this month! I loved both songs but leaned more towards “Disappear” since it had the more explosive chorus of the two and brought the most energy whereas the other song, “Best Friends”, had a more laid back, melancholy to it that while great in its own way made for a less engaging live presence. She closed her set with her biggest autobiographical hit, “23”, a song from her Off The Rails EP that brought the biggest crowd reaction as if they were all waiting for it the whole set. It’s not my favorite song of hers but I understand where the crowd is coming from, it’s a fantastically catchy bop.

In a shocking turn of events, JAWNY opened his set with the all-time Wrigleyville karaoke favorite, The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”, a song that, unlike JAWNY, needs no introduction which is probably why he chose it in the first place. That may sound harsh but I assure you it’s said with the utmost love and something I think JAWNY himself would agree with. Deep into his set, he regaled us all with the story of his first time at Thalia Hall as an opener about two years back saying how he dreamed every day since that he’d be back to headline this magnificent venue and prove to us all that dreams do come true, at least in Chicago. After a quick karaoke session with the crowd, he descended into the monstrously fun “strawberry chainsaw”, the lead single to his new album, It’s Never Fair, It’s Always True. The song is as deadly as it is catchy and as great a show opener as an album opener. He and his compadres kept the energy flowing into the next song, “Sabotage”, the opening track to his 2020 EP, For Abby.

One thing I noticed very early on in his set as someone who was only a few days into his JAWNY phase at this point is that the man is a natural born performer. He brings such extroverted energy to the stage and hardly ever lets a song go by without talking to the crowd and making sure everyone is having a great time. He played all his familiar hits ranging from “Trigger Of Love”, “4Tounce”, and all the way to his magnum opus, “Honeypie”. Not being that familiar with his work and only having listened to all his songs once or twice, the bigger hits admittedly went by at a somewhat quicker pace for me as they were all far from my favorite songs of his. If you want to talk favorites here, songs from his new album like “give up on you”, “take it back”, and especially “adios” brought the biggest smiles to my face and it really seemed like the majority of the crowd really connected to them too which was lovely for JAWNY to see, I’m sure.

At one point in the middle of his set, he asked us all if we could help him perform Chicago’s state anthem. The sound of crickets quickly swarmed Thalia as I’m not sure many knew Chicago’s state song. Hell, I’m not even sure if we have a state song. In the end, it was just a silly gag segway into him surprise performing “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift. As a mediocre Swiftie myself, it made for some great fun and I’m sure all Swifties at the show that night took a collective sigh of relief with the knowledge they can rest easy knowing Chicago’s state song is in good hands.

JAWNY ended the show with “Tombstone Grey”, a song from his 2021 EP The Story of Hugo, and a song I think most were still anxious to hear by the end of his set. What was so sweet about his show that night was how he could not stop saying that this show was not only the best show of his tour so far but genuinely the best show he’s ever played over the course of his still fledgling career. He was so appreciative of the love and energy Chicago was showing him and his bandmates that he even broke into tears several times and it was just the sweetest thing to see an artist care so much and to be so grateful to their fans. He talked about how just six years ago, he was a fry cook barely making ends meet and that to be where he is today can only be attributed to hard work, ambitious dreaming, and all his listeners out there that kept him alive during the pandemic when he for sure thought Interscope would drop him. I think I speak for all JAWNY fans worldwide when I express my thanks to Interscope Records for not making their biggest mistake which would have subsequently left me to my own dangerous devices on St. Patrick’s Day.

All photos by Andrew Lagunas

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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...