Review: Told Slant Outperforms an Air Purifier Live at Beat Kitchen

Last Tuesday night’s show at Beat Kitchen was undoubtedly one of the best shows I’ve been to since moving to Chicago almost two years ago. Not only was it one of the best shows I’ve been to in this fair city of ours but it was the first show where I really felt a sense of community and belonging. It’s been almost three years since Told Slant’s last album and even longer since their last tour, which probably contributed to the reason why Tuesday night’s show wasn’t completely sold out but in all honesty, it was quality over quantity because we were a great audience, I have to say.

Chicago-based singer/songwriter Hemlock opened the show and made me realize how truly thankful I am to be a person who now shows up to shows early enough to see all the bands play; life is too short to live a sheltered, headliners-only existence. Hemlock is the indie folk passion project of Louisiana-born Carolina Chauffe, and might I just say the writing is all over the walls when it comes to her swampy roots. Everything from her accented vocals to her dark and misty finger-picked guitar chords to the rusty chaos of all the slide guitar blemishes that came along the way scream swamp in the absolute best way possible. Each song had the lo-fi vulnerability and longing of an Adrianne Lenker tune but colored and textured with the swampy blues of an offering from Led Zeppelin III. Carolina often sang in a quiet, restrained tone but had no problems cranking up the decibels from time to time and each time she did, my life expectancy skyrocketed.

Sister (they usually concatenate a period but I’m going to forgo that here so Grammarly doesn’t scream at me) was up next all the way from Brooklyn, New York, and even managed to hire Felix Walworth, the one known professionally as Told Slant, to play drums for them. They had a strong, driving indie rock sound from the get-go that reminded me of early Big Thief but with the synthy undertones you might expect in a Men I Trust song (they weren’t that synthy but just let me have my comparison, okay?) Before and after their set, everyone in the band took time to hug each other and it was just the sweetest thing you could hope to see on stage and was absolutely indicative of their approach to songwriting; always be sure to hug the listener.

What especially makes Sister a rising threat to most touring indie bands today is the fact that they’re fronted by two extremely talented and versatile vocalists who often beautifully juxtapose each other with their dynamics and timbre; it creates an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds and allows their songs to never once border on the edge of boring or predictable. It also didn’t hurt that they’re exceptionally hilarious in between songs; always keeping the audience on their toes is the Sister way.

Point the Flashlight and Walk, Told Slant’s 2020 musical offering, was and remains one of my proudest self-discoveries in music. While I don’t think it’s a perfect album front-to-back, I cherish it all the same as it contains some of my favorite music in this world. As Felix took the stage, all of Sister was right behind them with Sister’s bassist now playing the role of drummer/clarinetist. They opened their set gently with the lush sounds of “Meet You in the City”, the first track from Point the Flashlight and Walk. From its carefully placed synths to the paper-mache fragility of their voice, the song sounded as perfect as it does on the album. Felix explained to the audience that this tour is basically the first time they’ve been able to perform any of the songs from their last album as the touring that was to commence in 2020/2021 was halted due to the pandemic and I couldn’t have felt more honored to be there in the audience hearing those songs for the first time live. They then went on to play my absolute favorite from the last album, “Run Around the School”, a painfully blissful song about the trials and tribulations of what it feels like to have an anxious attachment style and loving someone who may not be the right one for you. That take may be completely wrong but, frankly, I don’t want to know.

Other live highlights from their last album included “Whirlpool” and “Flashlight On”, the latter of the two sounding like the best Sufjan Stevens song you’ve never heard. Possibly the best, but certainly most precious moment came with the song “Tsunami”, a song taken from their 2016 album, Going By. The song, about wanting to be hugged, cared for, and loved on a bad day, is anchored by this repeated heartfelt lyric, “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful?”, and singing those lines back to them was so serene, I could have melted into oat milk butter right then and there.

Told Slant closed out their set with a song they co-wrote with Sister around a campfire a day or so before. The younger sister of Sister’s bassist had a pet toad named Spud that had recently passed away within the last year and so they all decided to commemorate and immortalize Spud in the best way possible by writing what could possibly be the best campfire song in his honor. It was a giant sing-along with Felix on guitar and the rest of the band on vocals wishing for their reading glasses as they squinted their way through the lyrics on their iPhones. It honestly made for one of the best finales to a concert I’ve seen in a while. I don’t think I ever felt more a part of a musical experience than I did at that moment because it felt just so communal and friendly like we had all known each other for years. It truly takes a lot of love and passion to pull off that feeling in me and I personally wish to thank Told Slant, Sister, and Hemlock for granting me those good ol’ warm fuzzies.

PS, Beat Kitchen now features an air purifier on stage to help with their indoor air quality and it was such a hit Tuesday night that it just had to be the core essence of this review’s title. The more you know.

Lorenzo Zenitsky
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...