w/ Hidden Hospitals, Harrison Hudson, and Now, Now
If you're ever in the mood for something with both strong guitar riffs and complicated vocal melodies (and lyrics that make you think), listen to Kevin Devine. I'm not exactly sure how or when I first heard KD, but his song "Cotton Crush" caught my attention years ago and I've been a casual follower ever since. I have actually seen him live before, he played at Lollapalooza in 2012 at one of the smaller side stages, and I really liked the performance. He's got a bit of a hipster vibe (though he might argue differently), and is known to write a political song or two, but don't let that throw you. Kevin is an angsty-rocker, skilled with the electric guitar to say the least, and puts on a "loud and stormy" performance (to quote from a podcast he did with U&U). Buying a ticket to see KD and his band play at Bottom Lounge was sort of a last minute decision, but he just released two albums and kicked off a US tour, so I figured why not. Plus, I've been looking for an excuse to venture back to the Bottom Lounge!
Don't try to neatly pidgeon-hole Kevin Devine into one genre..you're gonna be disappointed. His music really fits in a number of different genres, depending on the album and song that you're listening to. I personally think that the two songs to best describe KD are "Cotton Crush" and "Ballgame", even though they're actually pretty different. "Cotton Crush" resembles more of his indie-rock side - it has a really awesome build to this full-blown chorus that's got some screaming, cursing, and palpable angst. "Ballgame" captures his indie-folk side - really chill, repetitive guitar chords but with killer vocals and lyrics (definitely a fan favorite). Check out the songs on YouTube via links below!
There's an interesting back-story to these two new albums, Bulldozer and Bubblegum. The Brooklyn-native has released 6 albums between 2002 - 2011 (with a number of live albums..ahem, he's got one from Schubas in 2005!), and he's jumped around on 5 different indie labels in the process. (Oh yeah, he's got his own small label now, called Devinyl.) However, his latest project began when he launched a Kickstarter campaign back in January (watch the video here). If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's basically a crowd-funding e-platform that enables anyone to browse through entrepreneurs' products and ideas and support it by donating money directly to the cause. I mentioned that Jon McLaughlin did a similar thing, but through PledgeMusic.com, so it seems to be a more common thing for artists without major label support to do. But I think it works best when there is an already established fan-following who want to hear new music from someone they know. But anyway, so KD was basically overwhelmed with the amount of support that he got. According to this Buzzfeed article, he had received a third of his funding goal within 90 minutes of launching on Kickstarter ,and was fully funded 9 hours later. In total, he received about "$115,000 with 1,649 backers". Pretty cool, right? The real point of this story is that Kevin Devine, who usually is a solo-artist, wanted supporters to get their money's worth, so he decided to create and release two albums - one being his 7th solo album called Bulldozer, and the other called Bubblegum with his band, The Goddamn Band (Mike Fadem, drums and Mike Strandberg, guitar). They were able to have much more creative freedom without the label "interference", collaborated with producer Jesse Lacey (from Brand New), and ultimately ended up with two albums that are both similar and yet dissimilar. [[these videos on YouTube cover the GD band's creative process/production with Jessee Lacey, and give some really interesting background into the music. Watch them!]]
Side-note on non-related topic to the show :: I had made up my mind that the next time I went to Bottom Lounge, I would hang around at the restaurant part because the decor and overall vibe is just really cool. So I went down a bit early (it was another Sunday show) and grabbed a beer and dinner first. They had just switched out the kegs with a bunch of seasonal beers, so I got to try a Sprecher Oktoberfest (there were lots of other Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales too). OK, let me just say that if I were to open a bar/restaurant/music venue, it would totally have the same atmosphere that this place has. It's just got a lot of really cool decor, and the building itself is this cool, high-ceiling, brick warehouse with a sweet giant red ceiling fan and long communal tables (along with booths and high-top tables) - just really conducive to socializing and drinking beer. Also, I'm pretty sure I saw a couple of guys recruit random new friends around the bar (who were otherwise sitting alone) and invite them to sit with them at their table. So that was pretty cool. Food was good. Beer was good. It might be my new favorite place in Chicago, just saying..
So anyway, more about the show. There were three openers, which was something new - Hidden Hospitals (from Chicago), Harrison Hudson (from Nashville, whose guitarist (Harrison Hudson) also played along with the Goddamn Band), and Now, Now (from Minnesota). They were all pretty good, mostly rock-focused. Harrison Hudson was catchy. But the winner of the openers-battle was definitely Now, Now. Why, you ask? Because they were a girl rock band! At the risk of sounding outdated and really sexist, I (sadly and reluctantly) think it's harder for a rock band with girls to be taken seriously..especially if they're touring with someone who is definitely part-rock. I can only think of a few girl-rock groups who have successfully catered their sound to grab both genders' respect (No Doubt, The Cranberries...ehh...Evanescence? Probably missing a few others). But even though Now, Now was definitely more mellow-rock (synth-y and even incorporated a small xylophone!), these girls (and guy drummer) held their own in front of a mostly-male crowd. They were small and unassuming, but the vocals and harmonies were impressive and the guitar parts were more skilled than I could ever hope to be. They aren't mainstream by any means (yet), but they've got a couple videos on YouTube, performed a session at Audiotree, and their album Threads is available on Spotify (they're also searchable under their former band name, Now, Now Every Children). I'm gonna say that they're bound to come back to Chicago again.
So KD and the GD band opened the show with my favorite, "Cotton Crush", which got the crowd pretty pumped. He played some older songs, like "Between The Concrete and Clouds" (off the same titled 2011 album), "Buried By The Buzz", "Another Bag of Bones", and "Brother's Blood" - so good. Off of the Goddamn Band album Bubblegum, he played "Somewhere Unoccupied", "I Don't Care About Your Band", "Private First Class" and of course, "Bubblegum". The crowd was definitely feeling the band's new songs, which are prone to change and grow during live performances. KD might look hipster, and sure, he isn't covered in tattoos, but don't doubt his ability to seriously rock out. Despite the fact that he's usually solo, I was really impressed with the band as a whole. I like the fact that he released these two albums simultaneously and yet was still able to maintain two separate sounds. There's nothing more disappointing than when an entire album sounds the same, song after song..you get sick of that really fast. But Bulldozer is so different from Bubblegum that it's easy to listen to both (I've even got them in a combined Spotify playlist) and still be able to tell when a song is just KD or when it's KD and the GD band. Anyway, Kevin came back for a couple encore songs - "Bulldozer", "I Could Be With Anyone", and "Redbird". And then he ended the show with an acoustic version of "Ballgame" which was SO good -- check it out on my YouTube Channel.
Kevin Devine is one of a kind. He's got this angsty, emotional voice that can belt out his smart, sharp lyrics with surprising control. KD has that ideal middle-ground covered, between underground and mainstream, huge tour bus vs small van; and he clearly has an incredible fan base which has allowed him to experiment with these two kickstarter albums. He and the Goddamn Band will play an intense rock show that will leave you with your ears ringing, but with a happy musicsoul for what you just witnessed. So...GO SEE THEM and be happy :-)
..'Cause lately I've had to come to grips with scope and figure//
How my problems stack up in a world two steps from ruin//Or maybe it's rapture..