The 92s w/ Cardinal Harbor at The Throne Room, 10.11.14
also w/ Route 25 and Boss Fight
Going to a live show can be a hit or a miss. The vocals could be pitchy or sound totally different from the album, the atmosphere could be wrong, the crowd too young. It's a bit of a gamble. My main criterion for choosing a show to go to is simply - can the music hold its own as a live performance? With all of the technology and auto-tuning that happens these days, it's easy for musicians to sound great on a studio recording, but can't sing a note in tune in front of an audience. When going to smaller shows (meaning a venue with capacity in the 100s, not the 1000s), more often than not, the openers are relatively unknown. Which makes it even more difficult for them to win over the audience and perform for a room full of people who aren't paying attention and instead are trying to talk over the music.
The 92s were the headliner for Saturday night's show at The Throne Room. I first saw them at TTR back in June, and they put on a great show, playing songs from their then-recently released album, Television Fuzz (March 2014). So while I knew the night would be a long one (The 92s weren't scheduled to go on until 11:45pm!), I also knew that it would be worth it. What I didn't know was whether or not the openers would be any good. TTR is a fairly new venue (circa June, 2014) that primarily features local and still underground Chicago musicians. For that reason, the crowd that gathers tends to be, in my limited experience, friends and family of whoever is playing that night. But the occasional third party risk-taker like me will also show up, hoping to discover something great.
Openers for the night began with a group called Boss Fight (who I did not get to see), followed by Route 25, and then Cardinal Harbor. I tried to find some evidence of Route 25 on the internet, to see if they were worth going early for, but could not dig up anything. However, I did find out from a chatty friend of the drummer that Route 25 just recently formed. Overall, an OK band with a sound that's reminiscent of The Foo Fighters, but lacking in chord variation and lyrics. Still needs some work.
Cardinal Harbor was much easier to research beforehand, and after listening to some tracks on Spotify, I knew that they were a must-see. According to their 2013 Kickstarter page and promo video (to help fund production of their debut album), the bandmates met at Wheaton College in IL - Scott Carrick (saxophone), Aaron Krumsieg (trumpet), Julian Henderson (drums), Chris Hills (guitar), Ryan Bilton (bass), and Spencer McCreary (guitar/vocals) - and have been playing together for a couple of years now.
Cardinal Harbor has two full albums under its belt - Faces on Parade (2013) and The Cold Season (2014). I started with the most recent release, which has a slight Bon Iver sound, due to the usage of auto-tune and layered vocals mixed with more electronic sounds. Faces on Parade is 100% Dave Matthews Band influenced. Anyone with ears could tell you that, after listening to songs like "Round We Go", "The River", or "Memo". It's almost uncanny how similar Spencer McCreary (lead vocals) sounds to Dave Matthews. Many would probably frown upon such a blatant influence and dismiss CH as straight up copy-catting. But in my opinion, Cardinal Harbor is (dare I say it?) better than DMB. Before you shout blasphemy, let me explain::
- I never really had that unhealthy sense of worship for all things DMB, so I don't hold them up on an unreachable pedestal. Sure, they were a huge high school phase, and everyone went to a DMB concert every summer, but only to drink and smoke, and that wasn't really my thing. Something about the band's image just felt cliche to me. So I kinda boycotted them on principal.
- That being said, DMB is known for being an exceptional jam-band. And yes, they can put on a great live show (or so I'm told). But I just can't get over the 20-minute long song - if you're going to ramble for that long, I need some sort of song structure or emotional progression or a few lyrics to hold everything together. I suppose it's probably to the band's advantage that everyone at their shows is high (by choice or by accident), but I just don't get what all the fuss is about. Any real band can jam.
Cardinal Harbor gives the 6-piece band legitimacy in the current music scene. The 90s was the perfect decade for ska or jam bands, but where does a group fitted with a saxaphone and trumpet in its regular line-up stand today? They don't quite fit neatly into folk, or pop, or indie rock. But if a band is talented enough, fitting perfectly into an industry-labeled genre doesn't really seem to matter.
Oh, and don't get me wrong, CH can jam too (cut to: the 3:30 minute mark of their latest SoundCloud release, "Wildfires" or their song "Mirth") - but I think they do it right. It's not all over the place, it doesn't fall out of time, it doesn't leave you in a place that's totally different from where you started.
Another thing that I like about Cardinal Harbor is their growth as a band in finding their own style. Releasing a sophomore album is tricky - you don't want to sound too far removed from your debut, yet you still want it to sound different. Evolved.
Like I said before, Faces on Parade is a clear Dave Matthews Band-esque record. Nothing wrong with that - I'm sure every guy with an acoustic guitar looks to Dave as an influence (Phillip Phillips is another great example of a clearly Dave-inspired musician). It's so easy to fall in love with the sound of Faces on Parade - the songs have poetry-like lyrics, the acoustic guitar and horns are on-point, and it's cohesive enough without each track sounding too much like the next. On the other hand, The Cold Season is markedly different in style - it's obvious that they pushed themselves to leave the comfort of their DMB-stylized music and instead experimented with a more electronic sound - check out "Lies", "Arrangements", or "Bounty". Yet CH did the right thing and didn't stray too far from their best sound - "Miss Imagine" and "The Watch" pay homage to their first album and remind us why we fell in love in the first place.
Needless to say, the live set was awesome. Cardinal Harbor plays with an incredible sense of maturity and confidence, despite being such a young group of guys. Aaron (trumpet) wasn't there unfortunately, but Scott rocked it, and Julian was really fun to watch (and not to mention, super talented!). Coming off of a pretty notable performance at the House of Blues in September, I'm not sure that TTR was the best atmosphere for them - the way that the audience space is aligned to the stage makes it uninviting to stand, and more conducive to chatting around a table towards the back of the room. But it meant I got a great view for their set, so that was nice. Their setlist included "Memo", "Revere", their newest one via Soundcloud "Wildfires", and even did a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (pretty great). I really can't sing enough of their praises. Cardinal Harbor is a really talented group of guys and I'm calling it now - they're going to go very, very far.
The 92s obviously killed it. Need I say more? Check out my review from their June show if you feel like listening to me ramble about how great they are too. Dan Durley and the guys - Rob Marshall, Mateo Mullen, and new bassist Dylan Epling - are so fun to watch, and everyone in the room was dancing around and having a great time by the end of the set. They played a few new songs that are on an upcoming EP (date TBD..?) like "Unrest" and "Made of Nothing" (not to be confused with "Good to be Nothing" from Television Fuzz...but hey, correct me if I'm wrong about the song title here!?). The 92s also played "Read My Mind", "Put Me In My Place" [video from the June show], and "You Are Not Near Enough", along with some oldies from their first album like "The Incident" and "Gone Away"; the guys closed with "Cutlery Wives".
If you haven't heard of this band, well, you should check them out. They won the Red Eye Rock n Vote in 2012 and recently played at Pygmalion Fest in Urbana-Champaign. Which also featured fellow indie rockers American Football (yes, of storied emo-revival legend), Into It Over It (of current emo-revival fame), and A Great Big Pile Of Leaves in the line-up...just a few of the bands that I recognized, at least. And rumor has it that Dan Durley has recently moved to Chicago, so let's hope that means many more shows in the city for The 92s! I would see them over and over again, if given the chance.
[And sidenote: Dan couldn't have been nicer the last time that I wrote a review on The 92s. Always nice to see musicians without an ego, just doing what they love.]
Always a good time at The Throne Room, always looking for the next up-and-coming band out there. Thanks to Kamila from TTR and the Radio One Chicago guys, Hex & Dave, for getting me into the show. This is my first live show review that will be mirror-posted on the Radio One Chicago blog - a radio show on Loyola's radio station WLUW, 88.7, that airs live on Thursday from 6-8pm. So excited for the chance to build the FYMS name as a more legitimate music blog here in Chicago. Thanks everyone for the help and support!
Think: The 92s:: Manchester Orchestra; Kevin Devine; Weezer
Cardinal Harbor:: Dave Matthews Band; Phillip Phillips; Bon Iver (kindasorta)