Review: Slow Pulp Sell It Out in Their Own Backyard at Thalia Hall

On the very last night of the North America portion of their 2023 world tour, Slow Pulp left their old home of Madison, Wisconsin, and returned to the majestic shorelines and hot dog-strewn sewers of Chicago for a sold-out show at Thalia Hall, their biggest headlining “hometown” show so far in their nearly decade long career. Although they aren’t from Chicago, they have all since moved out of Madison and taken up residence here so I’m at least willing to consider the band local and Chicago their hometown if you are.

With Yard being one of my favorite new releases of the year, I was incredibly excited for their show at my favorite venue in all of Chicago, especially with New York’s indie folk super-darlings Babehoven (say it out loud and you’ll get it) opening. I had always seen their name thrown around and brought up when discussing new indie folk bands but never bothered to dive into their music until I found out they were opening for Slow Pulp on the American run of their 2023 world tour. Expectedly so, I’m ashamed that I took so long to jump on the Babehoven bandwagon, but I’m even more ashamed and distraught that I missed their set fumbling around my apartment frantically trying to locate my lost car keys before heading out to the show. Spoiler alert: they were in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. So, I can’t talk about what I’m sure was a fantastic set and performance from Babehoven but I can recommend their 2022 album Light Moving Time, an album that if I knew came out last year would have surely been in my top five of the whole year. Fortunately, I didn’t miss Slow Pulp’s electrifying set so let’s stop beating around the bushes and talk about that, shall we?

The energy in the room even before Slow Pulp took the stage was a little Beatlemania-esque in a way. After all, it did look like everyone and their dog were at the show with how packed it was, a massive swarm of show photographers crowded the pit, and the band even had a myriad of camera operators stationed around the venue shooting what looked to be a concert film. The excitement boiled over as they eventually hit the stage with “Slugs”, perhaps their most iconic single from their new album Yard, which came out in September. Thinking they’d keep the Yard train at full speed, they instead followed up “Slugs” with “Idaho” and “At It Again” from their 2020 breakthrough debut Moveys.

After playing a couple more from Moveys and Yard, they took us back to 2019 with “New Media” from the EP Big Day. I’m not as familiar with Slow Pulp’s EPs as I am with their LPs but their performance of “New Media” Saturday night really made me rethink my life choices as it was lead singer Emily Massey’s most magnificent vocal performance of the whole night by a country mile. “Steel Birds”, a classic stand-alone single from 2018 was next that brought much applause in the crowd before Emily brought out Maya Bon, lead singer of Babehoven, to help her with “Falling Apart”, the absolute breakout hit from their debut album. Babehoven’s musical style aligns almost perfectly with Slow Pulp and it’s in no small part due to singer Maya Bon’s meticulously crafted folk songwriting and ethereally dark and vibrant vocal lines that fit so superbly into “Falling Apart”. Slow Pulp kept the Moveys rolling with a quiet performance of “New Horse” followed by a rousing play-through of “Trade It”.

It doesn’t take an astute brain surgeon to figure out if someone is truly a resident of Chicago when the weather starts to turn cold as they’ll more than likely give away their position by instinctually making it a point to discuss the recent decline in temperature and lead singer Emily Massey outed herself good by bringing up how it just suddenly got so cold out! Your pain is our pain, Emily. In addition to talks about weather, Emily expertly introduced the new song “Cramps”, the most explosive single released for Yard, by mentioning how she got her period earlier that day the very second they crossed the state line driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin where they played a show the night before. All the period cramps talk definitely gave a whole new meaning to the song that I wasn’t entirely thinking about before but I always appreciate a fresh new perspective on a song.

Following “Cramps”, we were treated to a big ol’ bite of most of the new album with performances of “Worm”, “MUD”, “Broadview”, and “Fishes” all in a row. “MUD” and “Broadview” deserve some extra big shoutouts for being some of the best performances of the night but an extra long and tiresome shoutout is required for “Broadview” since it’s my favorite Slow Pulp song to ever slowly pulp in the history of slow pulping. It took some special talent to make it sound as beautiful as it does on Yard and all credit is due to the fantastic players that make up the Slow Pulp live ensemble. I do have to give special props to Emily Massey, though, for breaking out the harmonica from behind her back in an act that made everyone in attendance lose their minds with bombastic glee, or maybe that was just me (it’s hard to tell sometimes.)

With the night and set coming to a close, we all felt lucky to be treated to a three-song encore that started with the piano-laced title track to their newest album, Yard, and we were sure to let them know how blessed we all felt. By the end of their thrilling second encore song, “High”, the band looked like they felt the same way as it seemed like they were finally hit with the realization they had just played a sold-out headlining set at one of their favorite venues in all of the country, if not the world. In a last-ditch effort not to burst into tears, Emily Massey broke the steady wave of applause and cheers so the band could start what would be their final song of the night playing the melancholic twangy folky slow burn of “Montana” from Moveys. Bursting with emotive slide guitar, a lonesome chord progression, and vocals overflowing with so much hurt they could give Johnny Cash a run for his money, “Montana” made for a triumphant closer to a night that I’m sure felt like something out of a fever dream for every member of Slow Pulp.

Saturday night at Thalia Hall, was as wonderful of a show as any Slow Pulp fan could have asked for and to the members of Babehoven, I apologize and promise you that the jeans that held my car keys at gunpoint will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the (wardrobe) law, never to be worn again.

All photos by 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...