w/ Caroline Brooks, and Fort Atlantic
The first time that I saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers in concert was in 2011 when they and (another personal favorite) Jon McLaughlin co-headlined the "Boys Only (Plus Girls)" tour and played a gig at Lincoln Hall. Still in college at the time, I took a bus up to Chicago and crashed on a friend's couch so that I could go see Jon McLaughlin. After I heard the Sixers play their set, I was hooked. I think I went home after the show and bought at least three of their albums. If I could make up a music genre to describe them, I'd call it something like "story-telling". Or else just "authentic". Every song has a message or story that just resonates with the core, whether it's about meeting the love of your life, finding happiness with your job, your family, or how to be thankful with what you have. His lyrics are honest and the music comes from the soul.
Stephen Kellogg has actually been around since 2004 (Bulletproof Heart) and while he isn't flooding the radio (who knows why not), he's gathered a steady collection of seriously loyal "SK6ERS" fans who unfailingly show up when he tours and shout out requests for old songs like "Pedal Steel", "Diamond", and "See You Later, See You Soon". All of the SK6er albums have a similar sound, which is nice in a way, that they don't stray too far away from what they know they're good at. Some of the notables that I really like (and are heavy fan-favorites) are :: Glassjaw Boxer (2007): "4th of July"; The Bear (2009): "Satisfied Man"; Gift Horse (2011): "Gravity", "My Favorite Place", and "1993" -- see the YouTube links below.
So here's some background on Stephen Kellogg. It's no secret that he's happily married, with four daughters back home (shoutout to CT!). His original band, Kit "Goose" Karlson, Boots, Sam "Steamer" Getz, and Chip Johnson, collectively known as the Sixers, hails from Massachusetts (I think they met each other in college at UMass). The SK6ERs released seven albums together, between 2004-2011; however, for the "All Love, Future's Bright" tour, Stephen is hitting the road without the guys to promote his recently released solo album, Blunderstone Rookery. Officially and sadly, the Sixers went on an indefinite hiatus after their last tour ended about a year ago [they played a 3 hour sold out show in NYC to cap their 10 years and 1300 shows together!). Not sure if they'll eventually come back together or not, they are all still close friends and see each other often, but I think it's safe to say that SK will always be around to make music for us.
Blunderstone Rookery hits a lot of personal topics for Stephen (which isn't atypical) but since he's doing this on his own now, it seems there's a bit more vulnerability in the content. He wrote about his family a lot, being on the road, and "Ingrid's Song" is about his late mother-in-law. It's not unusual for an artist to be candid about his personal life via lyrics, but SK does it in a way that's very upfront and refreshing. There are a lot of insightful moments in his songs that everyone will connect with at some point in their lives. In fact, Stephen gave a TED talk earlier this year about job (and overall life) satisfaction, which I think was really well thought-out and shows the character that he has >> it's really worth a listen << [And if you like his style and overall philosophy on life and want to hear more rambling, listen to this podcast he did for Twangville].
So anyway, I went to his show on Friday night at Lincoln Hall (in the heart of Depaul's campus). If you don't already know this, Lincoln Hall is the sister venue of Schubas (which you know is my favorite place). While there are definite upgrades to LH like the second level balcony/dining area, a larger stage, and 1000x better light show capabilities, I have to say that I just was not feeling the crowd. Not sure if it has to do with the college-crowd or what, but I sort of felt like everyone there was rude (like the 6'4" dude standing second row-center, or the older man who spent the entire opening act completely turned with his back facing the stage..really?). Unfortunately, the crowd that one spends time with at a show sort of colors the overall concert experience (way too much unwanted physical contact), so I might have to think twice about the next show that I attend at LH. But I definitely dig the lighting that they do there! The lighting concept of a show is so underrated but it might be one of my favorite parts about live shows actually. But I digress..
The openers were Caroline Brooks (good vocalist, but nothing too special sadly) and a band from Portland, Oregon called Fort Atlantic. They were interesting, but I couldn't put a finger on what their sound was though. They played some synth-y sounding songs (with the drums up way too loud and much-too-long instrumental tangents) and then a couple lighter songs, but then ended on a weird rock song that just confused me. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt..
Can I just say how much Stephen Kellogg looked like Jesus? He came out on stage in white pants and a white button up shirt (slightly open at the top), sporting a full beard/mustache on top of everything! And the spotlights were turned off but the stage crew had set up these Ikea soft-glowing floor lamps around the edge of the set to make it look home-y, and then plugged in light bulbs to a circle of electrical outlets around the main microphone. So when he came out to singularly play "Satisfied Man" as his opener, he looked like Jesus, playing guitar, with streams of light beaming down and a soft warm glow encircling him. It was quite the outfit to say the least, but it was pretty great (I think he's been wearing that outfit for all of his US shows thus far). He followed with "Gravity", a SK6ERs hit, and then brought out the rest of the band, calling themselves the Tarentellas - guitarist Ryan Hommel, Chip Johnson on bass and drummer Marco Meneghin. They played a bunch of new songs off of Blunderstone Rookery, like "Forgive You, Forgive Me", "Good Ol' Days", and "Lost and Found". He also played one of the more "controversial" songs off his album, called "The Brain Is A Beautiful Thing", about the US government and things like that (not one of my favorites but not because of the subject matter).
So to further my point about Stephen being so humble, he gave a shoutout/thank you to a woman who was standing in the front row. He said she was at his first show in Chicago, like 10 years ago, and maybe he met her before at the meet and greet, but it was really nice that he recognized her for being there. A bit later, he also mentioned playing a wedding for a couple in Chicago - who happened to be there in the crowd which was cool - and so he basically dedicated his song "Diamond" to them. Oh yeah, and he brought up both Caroline Brooks and Jon Black from Fort Atlantic to play a cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", which isn't usually done, but so nice of him to do.
Let's see, he played "Crosses" and gave some back story about how he took a really long time to write it but he had the idea for it in the back of his head for ever. The song is about the crosses that he sees on the side of the road while touring; SK wanted to get it right though, and explained how he worked on it with his bandmate, Kit Karlson for a while (who also helped produce the album, along with Chip). He played "I Don't Want To Die On The Road", which is about that tension between touring and wanting to be with his family. One of his most notable songs on the new album is called "Thanksgiving". This 10-minute(!), 19-verse song is really intriguing to listen to (if you don't have ADD) because it is basically Stephen's pièce de résistance of his story-telling ability. He sings it with almost a speaking-voice at first, with a simple melody line and steady guitar chords. And then in a really beautiful, cathartic way, the song picks up in speed and volume, peaking at desperation and then releasing to optimism. The actual lyrics portray a man's life surrounded by the thoughts and memories of his favorite day, Thanksgiving; how his marriage sadly ends in divorce and his friends move on - life falls apart. But SK has said that the song is ultimately about redemption, and so it ends on that note (pun intended) of forgiveness and of not giving up ever.
It must have been bittersweet for him, but I was glad that SK played some old SK6ER songs. They played a really funny version of "The Bear" because he took a super long interlude to talk through an explanation of what it means "to get the bear" (aka when you have a super awesome amazing day) versus when "the bear gets you" (aka your day is just shitty all around). And of course he played "Big Easy" which is fun because in the past, the band has come up with some dance moves for the audience to do during the chorus (click here to see what I mean). The band also played "Milwaukee", a faster version of "Start The Day Early", "Roots and Wings", and they ended with a front-stage, acoustic, no-microphone version of "See You Later, See You Soon". SK's encore was "My Favorite Place" - just a great way to end a great show.
Stephen Kellogg is a rare artist - honest and real - who has been humble enough and open enough with his songs to attract a dedicated fan base that will surely follow him anywhere, for as long as he wants to go. Being able to see SK perform live is an experience that's just as moving as his lyrics, and you can tell that he puts his heart and soul into each show. If you believe in the ideals of family and love, and are hopeful that there's some bit of truth out there in this world, listen to his stories, watch him perform live, and your musicsoul might just find that some of its faith has been restored.