Review: A Lot of Smiling, Some Crying With Slaughter Beach, Dog at Thalia Hall

I had been looking forward to this show immensely ever since it was announced way back in June of this year. Around that same time, Slaughter Beach, Dog dropped “Strange Weather”, a standalone single that would later be revealed to be the first song released for their fifth studio album, Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling which was eventually released back in September. It’s slowly but surely becoming my favorite release of theirs to date and did absolutely nothing but increase my excitement for this show by 10x. My excitement, however, reached 11x when it was eventually announced that Bonny Doon would be opening as I could not think of a better opener to my favorite twang-infused indie rock band than Bonny Doon’s exquisite, yet minimalist brand of tasteful indie folk.

One of my favorite shows of 2023 was Bonny Doon at the Empty Bottle back in January so I was excited to see them again this time as an opening act for Slaughter Beach, Dog. Much to my surprise having not kept up with recent Bonny Doon news, their show at Thalia was a stripped-down, mostly acoustic set with just the two frontmen trading off vocally on a song-by-song basis as they normally do. Bonny Doon’s music, for as great it is, is rather simplistic even in a full band setting so I was somewhat on the fence at the start of their performance if they could pull it off but I ended up predictably being a fool to ever doubt them. Even without a complete rhythm section, their dueling, sometimes harmonizing, vocals paired beautifully against the backdrop of their lonesome chord progressions and subtle lead guitar work made for an entrancing performance.

Even though Bonny Doon put out a great new record this year back in June emphatically titled Let There Be Music, there weren’t too many songs played from that album apart from the ravenous “Crooked Creek”, which like most songs performed that night, took on a whole new identity unplugged. While I couldn’t place all songs on their setlist as I’m not the Bonny Doon expert all of you think I am, I will say some of my favorites included “Summertime Friends” from their 2017 self-titled debut which perfectly opened their set and had me fooled into thinking the rest of the band would come out for the second song. “A Lotta Things” and “Long Wave” from their brilliant and painfully underrated 2018 album Longwave sounded incredible but my one, true favorite has to go to their performance of “Evening All Day Long” off their 2017 self-titled album. I never really considered this song one of my absolute favorites from them but their show Sunday night certainly changed my mind and made me realize this was the perfect opening set for a Slaughter Beach, Dog show. Bonny Doon played great and sounded beautiful despite not having a full band presence and the lead guitarist having a massive cut on his fretting hand but playing at the “greatest venue in America” (their words, but I don’t entirely disagree) will do that to you.

I honestly couldn’t have asked for a more perfect first Slaughter Beach, Dog show than the one I got Sunday night. They did kinda skip over two whole albums I love, but I can’t help but look back at their set and performance Sunday night as nothing but a triumph in the fullest, most earnest sense of the word. They opened the show with the fun, giddy, and energetic “My Sister in Jesus Christ”, a song taken from their brand new album, Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling, their most consistent and arguably finest full-length yet. Their newest album had the strongest presence on their setlist Sunday night as we got six of the ten songs which I hope didn’t upset anyone in the crowd because it’s such a marvelous record, one that is very close to being album of the year for me.

Early on into their set, we got what might be one of the greatest performances of any song ever with “Phoenix”, the opening track to their 2017 album Birdie, my personal favorite song from the band, and the song I was dying to hear most that night. I couldn’t believe they played it so early in the night as I expected it to be more of a finisher but from the second I heard those opening chords, I was mesmerized. Fortunately, as the performance went on, I kept getting more and more mesmerized as lead singer Jake Ewald brought out his harmonica sent to destroy me emotionally. If that wasn’t enough, we then got drums in the second half of the song! An actual drum beat, people! To “Phoenix”! I’ve never heard anything so heavenly in my entire life and it was truly one of the most standout moments of 2023 for me, full stop.

Continuing with the Birdie trend, we got performances of “Bad Beer” and “Green and Gold” before heading back to the new album with songs like “Tommy” and the nearly nine-minute magnum opus, “Engine”. Speaking of “Engine”, dear lord, I did not think Slaughter Beach, Dog could rock that hard. In what turned out to be a 15+ minute long performance, lead guitarist Adam Meisterhans shredded like an absolute menace with a solo so intense and bewildering for what I was expecting from a Slaughter Beach, Dog show that I was just left amazed and stunned not knowing what to do with my hands.

Switching lanes again, the band brought us into the At the Moonbase section of the night beginning with its dazzling opening track, “Are You There”. Next, we got another all-timer for me with “Do You Understand (What Has Happened to You)”, a song that so beautifully highlights, as so many other songs do on At the Moonbase, singer Jake Ewald’s propensity for the most bizarre, unconventional, yet beautifully poetic lyrics that make me feel like I’m at some local slam poetry event in Logan. It’s truly one of my favorite aspects of his songwriting with Slaughter Beach, Dog and it was very fun to see Jake take it all a step further and sing the lyrics at 1.5x speed.

Now, I consider myself to be pretty well-read when it comes to Slaughter Beach, Dog’s discography as they’re without a doubt one of my five favorite bands on this Earth, but the song they played next I was clueless about. What I thought was a cover turned out to be “I’m in Love”, a song taken from a compilation album called Group Picture, Vol. 7 put out in 2017. The band has quite a bit of original songs on these compilation albums and for whatever reason, I had no idea! It didn’t help my shame when the song turned out to be stupidly catchy and fun as always.

Nearing the end of the show, we finally got “Acolyte”, that one song that even though I love very much, I still have no idea how it’s so by far and away their biggest song. Considering it wasn’t played as their encore, I’m wondering if the band is trying to challenge that fact as well. Closing out their pre-encore set, we surprisingly got the title track to their 2020 album At the Moonbase. The song has always been a favorite of mine due to its memorable, descriptive lyrics but was surprised to see it show up in their setlist because the song always seemed like a forgotten gem, one that gets skipped by most when it comes up on shuffle but I, for one, was so happy to get the chance to hear it live.

One thing that wasn’t on my 2023 bingo sheet was Slaughter Beach, Dog giving the greatest encore I’ve ever seen in my life. At this point in the night, it was clear to all of us that they hadn’t played anything off their much-ballyhooed 2017 EP, Motorcycle.jpg. Well, all that confusion and bewilderment got cleared up real quick when they drove headfirst into “Your Cat”, a song I ashamedly somewhat ignored for a large part of my Slaughter Beach, Dog fandom but am now all too obsessed with. And if their whole set and performance weren’t cathartic enough, they closed out the night with “104 Degrees”, aka “The” Slaughter Beach, Dog song. The song carries with it probably the highest amount of emotional weight and energy of any song in their discography and is without question a force to behold live.

I simply couldn't believe that at the end of the night, I had been witness to so many life-changing performances. That may sound hyperbolic but this Slaughter Beach, Dog Show at Thalia Hall was the kind of performance that makes you wanna do something with your life, pick up that dusty old guitar, bass, drum sticks, or keyboard and just write and play until your bleeding at the fingertips. I love this band so much and I want to travel the world with them.

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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...