Live Review

I’m Still Breathing: Green Day at Aragon Chicago

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When I first saw Green Day in 2013 on their 99 Revolutions tour, I thought it was phenomenal. Plenty of people had their complaints, but I couldn’t be happier. There were moments during that show that are still special to me. So imagine my surprise when Green Day managed to top themselves for their stop at Aragon Ballroom. Everything about it was better than before, from the setlist to the crowd. It was an unbelievable moment I’ll never forget that I almost missed out on.

Long story short, I didn’t get tickets. I tried for two hours to no avail. I considered the VividSeats route, but something told me to wait. I turned to the Green Day Community boards hoping someone would somehow have an extra. Thanks to some communication and help from fellow GD fans, I met someone who had an extra and wanted to take me. I could hardly believe I had an in to one of the biggest shows of the year. I’m normally a very shy, private person, so it surprised even me that I agreed to go with someone I never met before. Just a year ago I probably would’ve refused and just wallow in my misery at home. But I’m glad I did it. I met some great GD fans and hopefully, made a new friend in the process.

On to the show. I didn’t check out Dog Party prior to the concert, so I didn’t know what to expect. I actually really liked them. They have that kickass, slacker punk rock sound that fits well for a Green Day show. They were much better than 2013 openers Best Coast. I especially enjoyed their slow-burning cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” But I was impatient and ready to see Billie and crew! Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for them to hop on stage. But before Green Day made an appearance, it was time for the massive “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along. This is still one of my favorite concert moments. It’s everyone banding together singing an epic song and enjoying themselves.

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Like with every show, the drunk bunny came out while “Blitzkrieg Bop” played in the background. After properly riling up the crowd, Green Day sauntered on stage. They kicked things off to a roar with “Know Your Enemy,” which took me by surprise. I was sure one of the new songs would open the show. Still, it was a great way to rally up the crowd and just a taste of what the next 2 hours were going to be. Of course “Bang Bang” and “Revolution Radio” followed, which got the crowd fired up. If you thought those songs were amazing on record, wait till you hear them live. Somehow the band puts more fire, energy, and drive behind them once they hit the stage. From there they launched into the obligatory songs: “Holiday,” “Longview,” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Though they played these on their last tour, they’re still a blast to hear live. All the songs are so much fun and hearing thousands of people sing “When masturbation lost its fun/you’re fucking lonely” is a rare treat. Even hearing Billie say “LIGHTS OUT!” during “Holiday” was exciting. He’s done it hundreds of times, but to fans it never gets old. We devour every precious minute the band is on that stage.

Green Day reach into their past material on this tour and it wasn’t any different in Chicago. Fans in the know properly freaked out when they launched into “Private Ale” from Kerplunk. They also churned out favorites “2000 Light Years Away” and “Christie Road,” which Billie started off soft and gentle before having the rest of the band join him. I was most excited to hear tracks like “Armatage Shanks” and “Scattered,” key tracks from “Nim-rad” as Billie pronounced it. But the moment where I knew something special was happening was “Hitchin’ a Ride.” Sure, it’s not a rare song in their setlist, but they didn’t play it last time in Chicago. So I freaked out. Billie extended the song with extra hoopin’ and hollering, begging the crowd to join him as Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt kept the steady beat. Billie proved to be a tease when he decided we weren’t cheering loud enough and turned his back on the crowd as if to say “I don’t want to play with you anymore!” Yeah, maybe it’s cheesy but I loved every minute of it.

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It always impresses what a great showman Billie is. Even if he was lying, he did everything to make sure Chicago was well loved, saying things like “We’ve been coming here since 1990!” and the city being the best – typical stage banter. But since it was such a huge weekend for our Cubs, he made sure to mention it and even said, “Looks like you finally killed that fucking goat.” At one point, someone threw a Cubs hat on stage. Billie knew what to do – he put it on and said, “I feel like this is pandering.” It may have been, but hey it worked.

The way Billie commands the crowd to sing “Hey-oh” or to “put those fucking hands in the air!” it’s like being in church. When you hear the sweet opening chords to “Burnout” or “Basket Case” you lose a part of yourself. Your mind, body, and spirit are taken by the music and the amazing band on stage. This was proven by countless sing-alongs, with the most emotional being “Still Breathing.” Billie introduced the song by saying “Sometimes you end up going to survival mode in hard times. But the great thing about survival mode, is you survive. This song’s for you.” From there, the entire venue sang the song back to him as he smiled and looked on.

The crowd exploded during cuts like “St. Jimmy,” “She,” and “When I Come Around,” where Billie handed off guitar duties to one lucky fan, who kicked major ass. They also pulled out “Youngblood” from the new album, which was an unexpected treat to hear live. Then, of course, came “King for a Day.” This is now a Green Day live staple and it’s never dull. They may pull the same silly costumes, though this time BJA sported a cute captain’s hat while Mike wore his own mask, the same sax solos, and same random song covers, but you can’t deny how much fun it is. Jason Freese killed it on the sax, while Billie joined him on kazoo, but the best was the impromptu “Carless Whisper” solo. Before launching into “Shout” Billie laid on the floor, as usual, and talked about how everyone needs a little love. The breakdown included brief covers of “Hey Jude” and “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction).” At one point Billie said “Now you’re going to adopt me. My new home is Chicago.” He probably says the same thing in every city, but it was hard not to go crazy at that moment.

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Green Day kept up the non-stop energy with “Forever Now,” which saw Billie smash his guitar, “American Idiot,” and the epic “Jesus Of Suburbia.” Hearing those songs live with more vigor and venom than the recording never gets old. For the last encore, Billie slowed things down with “Ordinary World” mixed with “Good Riddance,” which pleased the hell out of me. In 2013, they passed over this song in favor of “Brutal Love,” which is great, but it’s awesome to hear such an iconic song live. Afterward, the band signed off with Tre and Mike sporting their own masks and tossing some gifts into the crowd. It was sad to see them go, but it was on to the next city for the band.

Green Day is a sheer force of energy live. They feed off the vibes of the crowd and give it back to them one thousand percent. Watching them play leaves me awestruck. When I wasn’t singing or dancing, I just looked at how hard these guys play. Billie attacks his guitar to the point where it seems like he’s losing control. Tre hits the drums with so much force it’s like he’s calling on the thunder gods. And Mike plays the bass like a beast. Plus, I enjoyed watching his faces and kicking his feet in the air while playing. And damn, can those guys get height while jumping. Seeing the pictures of them frozen in the air makes you wonder how the hell they got so high. Their shows are one big fucking party. In between songs, like “Letterbomb,” Billie stopped to say “We are all alive tonight!” and made a pact with the crowd to push out the negativity of the world. It was clear the band wanted to have a good time and made sure the crowd had fun as well. They somehow managed to top themselves to put on an unbelievable and intimate show. There was no pyro, special effects, screens, or stage stunts. Instead, it was just us, Green Day, and the music. And it made for something special.

Thank you, Green Day, for being an incredible band.

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Discovering new bands, making friends, and lots of rain: My first ever Lollapalooza

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Photo by Ashley P.

I consider myself a music fanatic. I need to hear music every day and I’m invested in the music world daily thanks to my writing. So, some may consider it a little weird I’ve never been to Lollapalooza despite living in Chicago all my life. Several things have kept me away from the iconic event, but it comes down to money. It’s also intimidating. I never considered myself a festival version. I have enough trouble with people at concerts. The thought of attending something with thousands of people in attendance was scary. Not to mention I’m also claustrophobic. But when I was asked to cover Friday by New City, I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone and see what I’ve been missing out on all these years.

Friday’s big headliner was Radiohead, but since I already had plans for that night, I had to miss them. It’s fine since I’m not a big fan of them anyway. I showed up at Grant Park early and waited for the gates to open. I couldn’t help but get excited seeing the looming “Lollapalooza 25 Years” sign in the distance. After waiting for the gates to open, we had to wait in the security line, which wasn’t so bad. Once I was cleared, I wandered around the festival grounds a little lost. I saw the different shops and stalls, none of them particularly interesting, but I was most excited to see beautiful Buckingham Fountain up close. It’s something I’ve seen in the car, but never up close. I probably looked like a tourist taking pictures of the landmark, but I didn’t care. I actually enjoyed walking around in the morning. There were a good number of people, but nothing compared to what it would be only a few hours later.

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Photo by Ashley P.

Since I wasn’t seeing Radiohead, I had no idea who to check out first. I didn’t most of the artists who were playing during the day. After doing some research I picked out a few bands, the first being Con Brio. I got turned around a few times looking for the Lakeshore stage, but I managed to find it. I got a good spot close to the stage and waited. While waiting I actually met some nice people and we started chatting. I loved meeting new people with similar interests because music brings people together. But when it comes to concerts, you only connect with the person you came with. Very few people strike up conversations with others anymore and it’s a shame. I glad I finally got to experience it, even if it was only for an hour.

It was time for Con Brio and let me say this: they are fucking amazing. They’re a soul/R&B/pop band from California and they probably had the most energetic set of the day. As soon as they opened with “Paradise” there was non-stop dancing. I loved that everyone on stage, from the guitarist to the saxophone player, was dancing their asses off. They all had a great stage presence pumping up the crowd, and actually being excited about playing, but you couldn’t take your eyes off frontman Ziek McCarter. Everyone in the band is insanely talented, but he carries most of the show. He’s Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson rolled up in one. He not only has serious vocal chops, he has the sickest dance moves. He shuffled across stage, shimmied and gyrated uncontrollably, and had perfect spins. He couldn’t stand still for a minute. It was hard not to smile seeing him move like that.

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Photo by Ashley P.

Their set was nothing but a huge party. As they kept playing, more and more people pushed closer to the stage to catch a glimpse of McCarter. There were a few slow jams, but for the most part, it was non-stop dancing. What I loved most about their songs like “Money” and “Liftoff” is they were full of positive messages, something the world desperately needs right now. It’s clear Con Brio wants to make people happy with their upbeat, vibrant music. It didn’t take long for people to start singing along even though they didn’t know the words two minutes before. They even did a cover of “It’s a Man’s Man World,” but switched it at the end to become “This is a woman’s world.” That made me love McCarter even more. At the end of their set, McCarter bid farewell by pulling off three flawless backflips getting huge praise from the crowd. As everyone left the stage, it became clear we witnessed something great. Everyone who decided to get hammered early clearly missed out. It was so good me and the guy next to me high-fived three times.

After Con Brio and saying goodbye to my new friend, I planned to hit up the BMI stage, but a soulful voice caught my ear. I sauntered to the Bud Light stage to hear Lewis Del Mar, another act I knew nothing about. Though I didn’t like them as much as Con Brio, I did like Danny Miller’s vocals. They were powerful and passionate. Every word hit like he was making a call to arms for a cause. Lewis Del Mar is a folk-pop duo and I recommend checking them out. They won’t get you pumped up or excited like Con Brio, but they have a unique sound that’s worth a listen. I stayed for two songs and left for the BMI stage to catch some of Horse Thief‘s set. They weren’t bad, but a little too soft and dull for my tastes. I dipped out earlier to walk around and see some of the random stands.

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Photo by Ashley Perez

There were stalls from Pepsi, Samsung, and Toyota, but none were that interesting. Samsung had a VR experience booth, but I wasn’t sure if you had to pay for it or not. And I didn’t feel like standing in the lengthy line. I did manage to score some from popcorn from Garrett’s, which was amazing. I would’ve paid for it, but free is always the right price. Thanks to the caramel and cheese blend I was ready to head back to the Lakeshore stage to catch some of Saint Motel’s set.

Saint Motel is another band I looked up before the festival and their bouncy, upbeat sound convinced me to check them out. And it seems like I wasn’t wrong. I mean the frontman’s keyboard was shaped like a tiger. What more do you want? When I got to the stage, it was already packed with tons of people. I stood on the sidelines to catch the action instead of pushing to the front. All their songs were energetic, light, and just fun. The crowd was obviously having a good time as they freaked out for every song they played. Though they weren’t my favorite act of the day, I still enjoyed the happy-go-lucky nature of their set. Plus, they did a slick cover of Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady,” which was weird, but delightful.

I left Saint Motel’s set early to get a good spot for The Struts. I knew very little about this band, but when I heard songs like “Put Your Money on Me” and “Kiss This” I knew they were going to have a killer performance. And I was right. They had a ton of energy, sounded great, and Luke Spiller is my new favorite frontman. A combination of Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, he knew how to work the crowd. He easily won everyone over with his insane vocal range, wild moves, and sexy demeanor. Think of a stereotypical 70’s era rockstar and you’ve got Spiller. It was hard not to be infected with his charisma, which is why everyone got down on the floor when he commanded them too. It was thrilling to jump in unison with thousands of other people. There were also great call and response sections where he would scream out “B-b-b-b-b-baby!” and wait for the crowd to sing it back. Plus, he pulled off some sweet costume changes.

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Photo by Ashley P.

What makes songs like “Could Have Been Me” and “Dirty Sexy Money” so infectious is it brings fun back in rock music. The Struts aren’t trying to be introspective or serious; they’re just having a good time. It’s very party-esque, carefree music that just makes you feel good. Their set was a blast and I am now a Struts fan. I was originally torn between seeing them and Modern Baseball. While the latter band sounds good, I think The Struts were far more fun.

Right as their set ended, the sky opened and it rain. Sweet, glorious rain! My entire body was shouting at me to go home. Before I left, I decided to wander around parts of the festival I hadn’t been yet. Leaving the Samsung stage I heard the start of MØ‘s set. I don’t really have a reaction to it since I don’t care for her music. I stopped by the BMI stage once more and caught a bit of Muddy Magnolias. From what I could hear, they sounded pretty good. But this area of the festival seemed largely ignored. I could barely see them on stage since there was no lighting. The sound was also pretty bad. I didn’t stay very long, but someone said they liked my style and gave me a flower! It was a random, yet cool moment.

I missed whoever was on the Pepsi and decided to walk around the Lolla Time Warp. It was lame. It was an empty section of the park with pictures of notable headliners and some old gig posters. It would’ve been cool to have something interactive, like actual videos or anything aside from pictures. Anything else would’ve been better to commemorate 25 years than this. None of the other shops or booths were interesting and the FYE pop-up was over priced.

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I headed to Perry’s stage just to see what was going on. What a mistake. It was filled with people everywhere. I could barely move even though I was all the way in the back nowhere near the crowd or the stage. I stood there for a few minutes watching Audien – a pretty standard DJ. But what was freaky were people running to the stage right before the drop. I left before I got trampled.

Tired and achy, I made my way towards the festival gates. I stopped by Buckingham fountain for one more picture and slowly lurched on. There were far more people at this time; they were preparing for the headliners after all. I reached the exit and said bye to Lolla. My first Lolla was a success. I conquered a strange fear; the festival no longer seemed so intimidating. I only wish the booths were more interesting. Riot Fest had some cool exhibits and booths that you didn’t have to pay for. Lolla felt like they only had food and beer, which I wasn’t interested in. I still had a great time, though. There’s something exhilarating about walking around the grounds hearing music drifting through the air. I was happy to be going home; I wanted to take a shower. But part of me wanted to stick around and see what other low key were playing. I wanted to meet more people, maybe make some new friends. But there’s always next year.

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Photo by Ashley P.

My Weekend with The Cure AKA The Cure in Chicago

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The Cure at UIC Pavilion June 10, 2016

When I saw The Cure for the first time at Riot Fest 2014, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. I finally witnessed one of my all time favorite bands right in front of my eyes. At the time I wasn’t convinced the band would tour properly again despite what Robert Smith said to the press. So I was stunned when a massive world tour was announced last year. I refreshed, refreshed, refreshed until tickets popped up. I was going to see The Cure again somehow. Initially, the shows felt like ages and ages away. Time somehow flew by and it was time for my Cure filled weekend. And it went even better than I could have ever imagined. I was lucky enough to attend both the Friday and Saturday shows each with their own charm and amazing setlist.

I was too impatient to sit through any other bands, so I skipped Twilight Sad on both nights. I imagine they’re pretty good, since I enjoyed their album, but I knew I couldn’t focus on them with The Cure being so close. After waiting in line for 30 minutes to buy a shirt, yes it took that long, me and my girlfriend found our seats. When the lights first went down on Friday night, my heart went into my stomach as the cheers got louder and louder. They came out one by one: Reeves Gabriel, Jason Cooper, Roger O’Donnell, Simon Gallup, and Robert Smith. I was so excited I couldn’t say anything as if it was my first time seeing them. Any nerves left as soon as they started playing.

Though both nights were amazing, Friday night will always be my favorite. There was the feeling of hearing songs for the first time, a stellar setlist, and having no expectations. I banned myself from looking at setlists from other shows, so I had no idea what they were going to do. Their first song of the night was “Shake Dog Shake.” It’s a staple of many of their shows by this point, but I was ecstatic to hear it since they didn’t play it during their Riot Fest set. It was an appropriate way to kick off the concert especially with the cool, flickering images behind them. But it was the next song that almost broke me. “Kyoto Song” is one of my all time favorite tracks, so I was stunned when I heard those opening bars. I’ve never cried at a concert, but I was damn close to it at that moment. Luckily, the tears never came.

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It seemed like Smith was in a Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me mood as they played “Like Cockatoos,” which some of the crowd didn’t seem to like, “The Perfect Girl,” and “All I Want,” where Smith forget most of the words. It wasn’t perfect, but it was still a treat to hear. They also went back earlier in their catalog for highlights “Primary” and “Charlotte Sometimes,” which has never been my favorite song, but I still loved hearing it live. I actually like the live version better than the recorded one. They even surprised me by playing songs “Want” and “Jupiter Crash” from what’s considered their least popular album Wild Mood Swings. Again, awesome to hear live even if the crowd around me didn’t think so.

But the biggest highlight of night one was the first encore. The stage went red and Robert walked up to the mic hold a spinning top. He turned it a couple time before the jarring riff of “The Top” rang out. My jaw dropped when I heard those opening notes. It’s one of the strongest, yet underrated tracks from The Top, so it was unbelievable to hear it live. Listening to Smith wail “please come back/please come back/all of you” gave me fucking chills. Right at that moment I knew something special was happening. They hadn’t played the song in a long time, 32 years in fact. Having them play it in Chicago for just one night made the concert that much more special. And I can’t believe I was there to see it.

Other amazing night one songs include “Exploding Boy,” which Robert introduced by saying “This is what is called the b-side,” “Never Enough,” “Give Me It,” “Doing the Unstuck,” “Friday I’m In Love,” and “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea.” Some of these songs I heard from their Riot Fest set, but hearing them properly on their own tour was a completely different experience. It was special; they weren’t trying to slay through the hits. Rather they mixed obvious favorites with some deep cuts for rabid Cure fans. With a total of 32 songs played it was an unforgettable night and I’m honored I was one of the lucky ones to attend.

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Night one was amazing, but The Cure didn’t disappoint with night two. Right from the beginning the band let you know you were in for something different as their opening song was “Out of This World” from the underrated album Bloodflowers. Surprisingly, this night’s set had other songs from the album including “The Last Day of Summer,” “39,” and “Bloodflowers.” Some of the crowd didn’t seem happy about the choices. I’m not even very familiar with the album only listening to it three times, but considering these are songs they haven’t done in a long time it was another rare treat.

Going to see a band twice in a row, hell even twice on the same tour, can be risky. Will they change things up or is it going to be the same setlist? Luckily, The Cure played almost an entirely different set. As expected, there were some staples like “Pictures of You,” “Lullaby,” “Close to Me,” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” but they didn’t necessarily play them in the same order. And some songs were so infectious that I didn’t mind hearing them again. I had just as much fun hearing “The Walk” on Saturday night as a I did on Friday night. They also played “A Night Like This” and “Fascination Street” on both nights, which got the entire arena singing along. It was awesome to hear a sold-out venue sing songs back at Robert Smith, just thinking about how may people adore this band.

Other highlights include “High,” “The End of the World,” “Closedown,” and “The Caterpillar.” The band also performed two new songs “It Can Never Be the Same” and “Step Into the Light,” which they debuted at the start of the tour. My first impressions? I like them a lot. The first song was kind of slow and beautiful, like a lot of their ballads, while the second was more upbeat and catchy. I can’t wait to hear these songs on their new album (hopefully). New songs are tricky and I honestly didn’t think they’d play them that much on tour, but I’m glad I got to hear them. A song they performed both nights that I never expected to hear live was “Burn” from The Crow soundtrack. I was dumbfounded when Robert pulled out a pan flute and started playing sloppily. I almost didn’t know what was going on. Once I recognized what song they were doing I flipped. It’s one of those great Cure songs that too many don’t seem to talk about, so it was beyond amazing to hear it live. It’s definitely one of my favorite moments from both shows.

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The best moment of this night was when the lights went low, the stage turned green, the opening bard of “A Forest” rang out. All you could hear were cries of “YES!” from the crowd. It was fucking awesome to hear the song live where Smith held some notes, showing he still has powerful vocals. One of the best parts of the show is when the band turned the arena into a dance party. Everyone screamed and started dancing in the aisles when they played “Hot Hot Hot!!!” This has never been my favorite Cure song, but hearing it live is a completely different experience. Even Bob Smith look like he was having a good time while singing it. “Wrong Number” was also good fun to hear especially when Smith let out a huge “Hellllooooo!” near the end. Sadly, the band couldn’t play forever and ended both nights with the classic “Boys Don’t Cry.” Personally, I was hoping they would end with something else for night two, but I didn’t mind hearing it twice since it’s a fun song to dance to.

Though I was lucky enough to catch The Cure at their Riot Fest set, seeing them at their own show is a different experience entirely. For one thing they have more room to pull out deep cuts, which they did on each night. I was pleased how much they switched up the setlist each night making it feel like two completely different shows. No matter which night you went to, you were guaranteed a stellar performance. They sounded amazing on both nights. Right as the show started I got chills at how amazing Robert Smith still sounds. He sounded so good, there were times I was just grooving to the music I forgot the band were in front of me. Smith was also charming and playful pulling off his dance moves that made everyone cheer. He bantered with the crowd more on the first night where he talked about how he “speaks fucking clearly” and trying to find the balance between performing songs the band want to, but making sure the fans will enjoy it too. On night two, he walked around each corner of the stage to say goodbye and as the crowd waved and cheered he gestured his arm as if to say “Aw, shucks! Stop it!” As usual Simon Gallup was dancing and strutting his stuff. The best part was when he and Robert would play together in each other’s faces. These were two legends on stage having a blast! And like that The Cure were gone.

Both shows were amazing. Sure, they didn’t play songs I really wanted to hear, but I was ecstatic with all they played. The only bad thing about the show was UIC itself. Unlike the Cage the Elephant show, it had little to do with the sound. Instead it was the heat. On the weekend the band played it was really hot in Chicago. How did UIC treat this? By not turning on the air. I’m not sure if they did the first night, but they didn’t the second night, which may have been part of why the band only did 28 songs. By the end of the night, my clothes were soaked through. As I said last time I hope I never have to return to UIC Pavilion for another concert.

Despite this, both shows were absolutely amazing. I can honestly say they’re the best shows I’ve ever been to. Once it was over, it was hard to get back to reality and get back to work. How can you top a weekend like that? The Cure are amazing performers and are really pulling out all the stops on this tour. They’ve been doing so many deep cuts, rarities, and b-sides it made me wonder whether Smith would announce retirement at the end. Hopefully, the announcement will just be a new album. Whatever it is I’m more than happy I got to spend the weekend with The Cure. It’s something I’ll never forget and similar to the end of Riot Fest, something I want to experience again really soon.

Fifth Time’s the Charm: Cage the Elephant in Chicago

Cage the Elephant at UIC Pavilion June 7, 2016

Cage the Elephant at UIC Pavilion June 7, 2016

Ever since their second album Thank You, Happy Birthday I’ve been a huge fan of Cage the Elephant. Seeing them for the first time in 2011 at the Aragon Ballroom cemented them as one of the best live bands. This past Tuesday night marked the fifth time of seeing them on stage and they didn’t fail to disappoint. It wasn’t the same intimate theater setting they usually play, but they didn’t let it intimidate them. They commanded the stage with the same fire, energy, excitement, and passion they bring to every show proving themselves to be comfortable performing to bigger crowds.

Morning Teleportation and Portugal. The Man were the opening acts, which I intentionally missed. I was miffed that the first band was added at a later time. Personally, I hate concerts with more than one opening band especially when it’s two bands I don’t care about. Not only do I hate sitting through them, I feel it takes away time from the band I really want to see. So I caught the last two songs from Portugal. The Man and they seemed alright. They at least riled up the crowd and prepared them for Cage. Finally, the band walked out on stage one by one with Brad Shultz strutting around on stage with so much swagger. Matt hit the stage last greeting the crowd with a big smile dimples and all.

They opened with “Cry Baby” from their new album Tell Me I’m Pretty. Matt wasted no time dancing and shaking like he was about to fall over. After that they launched straight into fan favorite “In One Ear,” which exploded the entire venue. No matter how many times I hear the song live, it sounds better each time they do it. It never gets old and it’s great to see it’s a staple of their live shows. Matt stumbled and jumped around stage with the same energy and passion you’d imagine he would have at the start of the tour. They turned UIC Pavilion into a dance party with tracks like “Spiderhead,” “Take It Or Leave It,” “Mess Around,” and “Aberdeen.” Matt’s not afraid of losing himself in the music as he dropped to his knees headbanging while guitarist Nick Bockrath shredded away. Matt even showed Brad some love as the two embraced in a headlock while Brad continued to play as if nothing is going on.

The band finally gave fans time to catch their breath during slow tracks “Too Late to Say Goodbye” and “Trouble.” I was actually surprised how just about every person in the venue knew the words to these songs. Matt stopped several times to let the crowd take over on vocals, holding out the mic with a big smile on his face. Usually when a band plays new songs, fans politely listen waiting for the band to get back to songs they know. That wasn’t the case with Cage the Elephant. The crowd was actually excited to hear every song from the new album they played.

But the evening wasn’t perfect. The band had a few feedback issues, but the biggest problem was the arena itself. I’ve never been to UIC Pavilion for a show before, but I was disappointed with the sound. It doesn’t have the best acoustics, which made it difficult to hear the band at times. In between songs Matt took time to address the crowd, yet it was hard to make out what he was saying. The venue wasn’t very kind to the band, but they powered through it and didn’t let sound problems bother them.

A lot of the songs from the setlist were culled from their last tour: most of it was from Melophobia with few tracks from their first two releases. Of course songs from the new album got the most spotlight. It’s not a bad thing, but it would’ve been nice to shake up a few things. Pull out some older tracks they haven’t played since 2011 or leaves off tracks like “Telescope” or “Come a Little Closer,” which feel overplayed at this point. But while you were there you didn’t care what they played; you just wanted to hear them.

During songs “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Back Against the Wall,” and “Cigarette Daydreams” the crowd let their voices ring out, singing so loud it drowned out the band. At that moment, the attention turned to the audience who sang every word with Matt, something you didn’t see too much at their shows a few years ago. As a fan it was an amazing sight to see. The thought of all Cage the Elephant fans coming together for one night and sing these songs as they had done many times in their bedrooms.

After “Come a Little Closer,” which prompted more sing-a-longs, the band returned for a three song encore: “Cigarette Daydreams,” “Shake Me Down,” and “Teeth.” It wasn’t until the last song that Matt unleashed any pent up energy and dove into the crowd, something that’s a staple at Cage the Elephant’s live shows. While Matt swam through fans to get back to the stage, the rest of the band took a bow and walked off with Brad flipping his guitar in the air and leaving with more swagger. Once he got back on stage, Matt stayed behind throwing picks, shirts, and random gifts to loyal fans. With one last smile he ran off leaving the venue filled with screeching guitar feedback.

Even though the venue kind of sucked, there were sound problems, and it wasn’t a small theater they still killed it. The vibe of the night was about having fun and dancing the night away. Matt was as charming and hyper as ever. Every time he moved, the crowd moved trying to copy his spastic dance moves. Though I still prefer them in more intimate settings, it’s great to see they can thrill larger audiences especially since it seems like their concerts are only going to get bigger. I didn’t leave the concert with the usual high I get from shows, probably because this was my fifth time of seeing them, but I still had a big smile on my face. It was an amazing pick me up from a crappy week and I’m already looking forward to the next Cage the Elephant show.

Madonna rebels and raises hell in Chicago

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Madonna at the United Center 09/28/2015

Madonna has been around for three decades, yet her live shows aren’t predictable (unless you’ve been reading the current rave reviews). Her latest outing with Rebel Heart is a two hour party with lots of stunning choreography, shimmering costumes, and flashy set pieces. Leaning heavily on material from her newest album, Madonna entered the stage from above in a cage and launched into “Iconic” as soon as she was set free. In a flowing black and red outfit and surrounded by armored guards, she snapped, locked, and twirled in tune with all her significantly younger dancers. After the hyperactive “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” she threw longtime fans a bone with an electric guitar rendition of “Burning Up.” Standing in the middle of the crowd on her cross shaped stage wielding a guitar made for a great photo op.

The singer was up to her old tricks regarding religion and sexuality during songs like “Holy Water,” which had scantily clad nuns twerking and twirling on stripper poles and “Devil Pray” where she rolled and gyrated on a table that was previously used for a sexy rendition of The Last Supper. Some say she was trying to be shocking, but fans knew it was nothing but classic Madonna and they ate up every second. During mellow sections where she belted out “Heartbreak City” mashed with “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” she traversed a spiral staircase, yet never missed a note. It was during these points where you could really hear how much she’s improved as a singer. Take that everyone who thought she was too nasally.

One of the songs that got the biggest response is the Erotica track “Deeper and Deeper,” which got everyone on their feet recreating the club vibe from the mediocre music video. After asking which bitches were in her crew (answer: everyone in the crowd) she got real with the crowd for “Rebel Heart” where she prompted everyone to sing with her. All throughout the show, the singer’s dry wit and somewhat cheesy humor was on as she teased the crowd with promises of an after party with drinks and food only to proclaim “NOT!”

Though she eschewed fan favorites like “Express Yourself” and “Like a Prayer” in favor of lackluster tracks from her new LP, she did sing her classics with a new flair. “Like a Virgin” presented one of the few times Madonna was on stage alone, bumping and grinding to its new reggae beat, while “La Isla Bonita” kept it’s original Latin flair, Madonna took the opportunity to apply the flamenco guitars and hard stomps for a medley of hits that included “Lucky Star” and “Into the Groove” that breathed new life into the songs. She performed “Who’s that Girl?” in similar fashion while she played an acoustic guitar. “True Blue” saw her playing a ukulele and “Material Girl” was done in a new jazzy style that both jaunty and a lot of fun.

But it wasn’t all about diva. During costumes changes the crowd got to see the finesse and grace of her many dancers. With styles ranging from parkour, salsa, hip-hop, and even ballet, the dancers were graceful and beautiful as their bodies twisted and turned with pre-recorded songs from Rebel Heart. There was even one routine which saw the dancers standing high atop flexible poles and proceeding to bend so far forward in the audience you were sure someone was going to fall. It was both breathtaking and cringe worthy. And as always, Madonna makes sure to get the best looking dancers for some delicious eye candy.

Yes, it was disappointing that she didn’t do more of her classics, but she performed the unconvincing tracks from the new album like “Body Shop” so well that by the time you left the stadium you had a new found love for the songs. By the end of the show you were halfway through putting in your order for the new LP, which is exactly what she wants. After declaring “Bye, Bitches!” only to come back for one encore of “Holiday,” the crowd filed out high on dance, sweat, and excitement to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

Madonna puts on a hell of a show, but doesn’t get the credit for it because of her age. This makes her work harder to prove why she’s the baddest bitch around. Whether you see it on Youtube or actually have tickets to see it in person, you have to see a Rebel Heart performance to truly experience it. There’s so much I’m forgetting to mention, but that’s just the result of a fucking good show.

Setlist:

Iconic

Bitch I’m Madonna

Burning Up

Holy Water (with “Vogue” snippet)

Devil Pray

Messiah (video interlude)

Body Shop

True Blue (acoustic)

Deeper and Deeper

HeartBreakCity (with “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” snippet)

Like a Virgin (with “Justify My Love” and “Heartbeat” samples)

S.E.X. (video interlude; with “Justify My Love” snippet)

Living for Love

La Isla Bonita

Dress You Up (with “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star” snippets)

Who’s That Girl (acoustic)

Ghosttown (acoustic)

Rebel Heart

Illuminati (video interlude)

Music (with “Give It 2 Me” sample and “Chicago” snippet)

Candy Shop

Material Girl

La vie en rose (Édith Piaf cover)

Unapologetic Bitch

Encore:

Holiday