Review: MJ Lenderman Lights Up Lincoln Hall for His Pitchfork Aftershow

After what was surely a good ol’ sweaty time at Pitchfork Friday, MJ Lenderman and Co. headed over to Lincoln Hall with their friends in Styrofoam Winos for a sold-out after-show celebrating all things twang. Still riding the high from his highly acclaimed 2022 album, Boat Songs, plus having just released a new song, “Rudolph”, mere days before the show, MJ was not without his reasons for being at Pitchfork and him having a sold-out after-show surprised absolutely no one. With his other band, Wednesday, releasing one of the year’s most highly revered albums, MJ has found himself amidst a surge in his own popularity that no doubt contributed to him playing the biggest sold-out headlining show of his career (his words, not mine) Friday night at Lincoln Hall.

Nashville natives Styrofoam Winos opened the show and gave one of the most fun performances by an opening act previously unknown to me that I’ve ever seen. Now, take that with a grain of salt because you don’t go to an MJ Lenderman Pitchfork after-show without loving some twang in your indie and these winos had it in spades. Their sound was unique with influences drawing from old-school ’70s artists like The Band, Grateful Dead, and The Allman Brothers all the way to more semi-modern-day indie classics like Yo La Tengo and the Silver Jews. You would guess from their chaotic band name that they’d be as fun live as a barrel of monkeys and you wouldn’t be wrong but you’d still end up underestimating just how fun they are in a live setting. They are a band of fantastic singers all trading off lead vocal duties as free and loose as they trade off crazed guitar solos and the tastiest of riffs. Most of their songs went by without me grabbing any names but “Roygbiv”, a song they played towards the end of their set (if not the very end) from their self-titled debut album was the most uproarious with an extended outro that kicked up the pace and had them boogieing like never before. If you’re a fan of fun, definitely check out their debut album before any new music drops soon.

MJ Lenderman started out his biggest headlining set to date with his brand new song “Rudolph,” which isn’t quite as brand new as its official release day would lead you to believe. When I saw him open up for Plains in November of 2022 at the Vic, he played “Rudolph” to a more lukewarm reception than he got at Lincoln Hall Friday night; you could say any song he played first would have gotten a big reaction but his fans wouldn’t let a new song like that just go unnoticed. It didn’t surprise me as his set went on that most songs were taken from his latest release, Boat Songs, which came out last year to widespread critical adulation for all the right reasons: it was catchy, fun, heavy, gentle, twangy, distorted, humorous, and would have even rivaled Wednesday’s Rat Saw God if it came out this year. All the best songs from Boat Songs sounded incredible live like “Toon Town”, “TLC Cage Match”, “You Have Bought Yourself A Boat”, and “You Are Every Girl to Me”, but even already fantastic songs like “Dan Marino” and especially “Hangover Game”, with its heavier rhythms and faster tempo, sounded so much better live than on record.

Apart from songs from Boat Songs, MJ played some older classics of his like “Someone Get That Grill Out Of The Rain” and “Gentleman’s Jack” from the 2021 album, Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, and even did his best not to ignore his fantastically fun Knockin’ EP that also came out in 2021 with cuts like the title track and his much beloved “TV Dinners”, a song as wild and unruly live as you’d expect from the title. We were also treated to a couple of new songs Friday night that continued the themes and sounds of Boat Songs quite nicely including one in particular called “Bark At The Moon” which was, as you’d expect, dedicated to Ozzy in more ways than just spirit.

For an encore, MJ brought out his friends in Styrofoam Winos to play a couple of songs, the first of which was a cover of “Long Black Veil”, a 1959 country ballad originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell but made popular by numerous artists including Johnny Cash and The Band. For his last song, MJ and Co. went out with a big ol’ bang playing the devastatingly heavy “Taste Just Like It Costs” from Boat Songs. Dripping with Neil Young and Crazy Horse-inspired guitar and drum work, the song was the perfect epilogue to a show already filled with so many great moments that gave me assurance that MJ Lenderman is one of the most fun performers live. But hey, I’m biased with my love for watching people play the pedal steel and drink Miller High Life on stage, so don’t take my word for it.

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...