Cardinal Harbor at Metro, 1.23.15
w/ Rory Sullivan, The Sweeps, Hero Monster Zero ft 8090, & Jackpot Donnie
The first show of 2015 for FYMS was an eclectic mixture of musicians and bands from a variety of genres, but all with one very important thing in common - calling Chicago their home base! The four openers plus headlining band Cardinal Harbor played their best sets for the Friday night crowd at Metro in Wrigleyville. While the heavy lineup made the night pretty long, the audience was up for it and the headlining band was well worth the wait.
Rory Sullivan, a singer/songwriter originally from Delaware, delivered a confident and impressive opening set. His backing band included an electric guitar (Mike), upright bass (Alex), and drums (Oliver?), in addition to himself on an acoustic. Rory has a strong clear voice that fits in with the Howie Day or Matt Nathanson genre (for a split second, the name "Phil Collins" even popped into my head..), but he also mixes in a little bit of twang and blues. Rory's songwriting is something that sets him apart, making him a double edged sword in the music biz. He's won a number of songwriting competitions like the Sara Evan's Hertz Movin With Music Songwriting Competition (2013) and was runner up in the Indie International Songwriting Contest (2014). Rory came to the Chicago scene back in 2012 and is soon to release a new album, backed by his successful Kickstarter campaign last spring (The Fan Project). I definitely think there's room for Rory Sullivan here in Chicago - his acoustic driven songs are strong enough to capture an audience's attention. And the electric guitar lines mixed into the live show were a really nice addition to an otherwise mellow but solid set. Check him out at his next gig at Beat Kitchen on February 19.
The Sweeps came on next. Another Chicago band, this group of indie/noise pop rockers had an interesting sound. They're normally a trio - Bob Dain (vocals, guitar), Santiago Torres (vocals, bass), and Chris Dye (drums) - but on Friday night, they had an extra guitarist (Sam Bakken) and three (yes, three) extra vocalists - Erynne Baronia, Mitch Mead, and Jess Price - I say extra, because there are already two vocalists to begin with. While they were decent vocalists, I'm not sure why The Sweeps felt the need to have additional voices..in my opinion, they could have done without, as it kind of gave off a talent show band vibe. But the heart wants what it wants. I was impressed by the vocals and energy from Bob Dain though; he reminded me of a Kevin Devine-type of rocker with a guitar - I could see him doing big things. They have worked hard to gain a favorable reputation in the Chicago music scene, having played over 300 live shows, and even had their own groupies standing front and center for their set (I believe there also was a proposal made during one of the songs!). Impressive for a young band who isn't signed to a label. This young band released their first album called Swift Armour in 2013, full of noisy songs paying homage to the lovely Chicago. They're releasing 7" vinyls for their soon to be released sophomore album, which is a pretty cool idea. I'm sure they'll be playing around town again soon, but in the meantime, check out their album here on SoundCloud. [Also check out this interview done a few days earlier with Radio One Chicago!]
This next band left me extremely confused throughout their entire set. Not to say that they were bad, but maybe just a bit genre-confused. Hero Monster Zero is a (basically) rock band of four guys who, just by looks alone, I would not expect to be friends, let alone play together in a band - Andy Metz (vocals, guitar), Chris Stell (guitar), Jesse Walk (bass), and Ryan Birkett (drums). Even though Chris Stell donned a sleeveless shirt, cowboy hat, and sunglasses during the entire set, his blues-rock riffs were surprisingly impressive and really added something extra to otherwise straightforward rock songs. As they worked through the setlist, Andy Metz's voice seemed to get closer and closer to screamo (think: 90's rock band), and then just when I thought I had them pegged, special guest Seth Williams came on stage. After doing some research, Andy Metz and Seth Williams are also a hip-hop/rap duo, also known as 8090. These two were actually really great together, my favorite of the night was a song called "Work Shirt" (check it out here). They also did a cover of "Walk This Way" that you can find somewhere here on their Facebook timeline, as well as some other videos from the night. Overall, a good band that could maybe use some genre-refinement, but they certainly all have talent and played an energetic set.
The final opener of the night was a band called Jackpot Donnie. These guys definitely had a more put-together feel and given that they've been around since 2003, it makes a lot of sense. This band is another one that likes to blur the genre lines - while their Facebook page says "Rock", Jackpot Donnie's repertoire is comprised of songs that are a unique blend of rock, reggae, ska, and funk. They cite 311, Sublime, and Queens of the Stone Age, on their "Artists We Also Like" section, if that gives you a better idea of their sound. The five-member band, Matt Love (vocals, guitar), Brian Wise (guitar), Adam Campbell (drums), David Langley (bass), and Peter Spero (keys), was also joined by three additional vocalists. But these extra voices blended seamlessly with the main voice of Matt Love, who has a pretty great voice regardless, and contributed to the reggae-funk feel. The band's most recent EP, Mayday!, was released in 2013 and claims Steve Gillis of Filter as the producer/engineer. Having played at a number of well-established Chicago venues, I would expect them to continue booking shows around the city, so go check them out! [You can also take a listen here, for you out-of-towners.]
FINALLY. The band I was waiting for alllll night - Cardinal Harbor. I first discovered this band in October 2014 when they opened for another one of my local favorites, The 92s. CH is a seven-piece band who met during college in the suburbs of Illinois. Having recently graduated, they are now setting out to really establish a name for themselves in the city. Spencer McCreary (vocals, guitar), Scott Carrick (saxophone), Chris Hills (guitar), Ryan Bilton (bass), newest member but long-time friend Taylor Dalton (guitar), and Julian Henderson (drums) all came together on Friday night to play a showcase a number of new songs. Sadly, their trumpet player Aaron Krumsieg couldn't be at the show, as his studies at Yale prevented him geographically, but he is still a member and will most likely still be included in future recordings (yay!).
I can't tell you how impressed I was with Cardinal Harbor the first time I heard their songs like "Memo" and "The River" live. A band who drew heavy inspiration from one of the masters of the industry, Dave Matthews, in both vocal similarities and guitar patterns throughout their debut album (2013), Cardinal Harbor has been experimenting more and more since the release of their second album, The Cold Season (2014). The brand new material brings them even further away from their original acoustic jam-band vibe - their new direction plays with the sampling of electronic beats and a vocal processing tool that add harmonies and depth to Spencer's voice; yet they're still keeping the acoustic guitar and sweet, sweet sax (which I love) as key layers of sound and melody.
The setlist opened with "Bounty" and included some of my favorites like "Revere" and "The River". Cardinal Harbor introduced us to five new songs as well, like "Cambridge, Mass", "Be-er", "Cigar Social", and "Santa Cruz". If their new song "Wildfires" is any indication of how their next album will sound, I think it's safe to say that they'll be ingeniously combining two of their strengths - acoustics/instrumental layers of sax & horn and this new-found experimentation with electronic beats and sounds.
After hearing Cardinal Harbor play in two pretty different venues (Throne Room vs Metro), I'm inclined to say that their performance at Throne Room sounded more aligned with the atmosphere of the venue. Although, I fully believe that the Metro show was more representative of the amount of attention (aka audience size) that they should be getting as a band. I think there was something off between the vocal processor being used and the stack of amps/speakers bookending the stage because the vocals weren't as clean as I remember them to be (I heard there were some technical issues during soundcheck) - hopefully those technicalities will get ironed out as the guys get used to playing songs with more and more electronics. (sound crews, be prepared!) An extremely talented group of musicians, Cardinal Harbor is a very promising band, from both a songwriting and live performance standpoint. The guys are working on putting together new material for another album, but it might be a while before we get to enjoy it. Until then, Cardinal Harbor is playing a show on 2/13 at The Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago, and will hopefully be playing here in the city more often (Schubas, please? Music fests, please?). And when they do, I'll be sure to let you all know!
(Update: check out the website Swizzle Steve Presents for additional CH shows! Save the dates for 2/1 and 2/8, free shows at Bootleggers)
P.S. Big shoutout to Ryan and the rest of the guys in Cardinal Harbor - they have been extremely nice to FYMS! And did I mention that they comp'd me a ticket to the show? Thanks, guys!