On Saturday, Freelance Whales performed in Chicago as part of Eventbrite's "Concert Confidential: 5 Cities. 5 Causes. 1 Night." concert series with a free hour long set at Empty Bottle... and from the opening notes of "Generator First Floor" it was clear that this evening was going to be a celebration of music.
Performing the show in support of local charity Rock For Kids, there's really no more appropriate band to raise funds for a group that helps provide music education to children in need. At one point, while appealing to concertgoers to make a donation, frontman Judah Dadone mentioned that as a child he was given a recorder, an instrument he described as "something kids are given to make them fall out of love with music" before making one more humorous request for donations.
Seeing the band in the live setting, I now completely get it. All of the comparisons to Arcade Fire suddenly make total sense. The band doesn't necessarily sound like Arcade Fire but they exude an unquestionable love of music (like Arcade Fire) that few other bands can match. It's clear with the passionate approach they take to their craft and it's clear in the fact that every member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist to say the least (at one point, the lead singer put down his guitar and started playing bass while the bassist switched to xylophone and one of the guitar players started playing his guitar with a bow. Got that?). It's also clear in the uncanny chemistry that band member share with one another onstage (afterall, this is a band who cut their teeth performing on subway platforms in New York).
I joked in my concert preview earlier this week that I couldn't wait to see how many instruments the band managed to squeeze on the small Empty Bottle stage. And while it seemed like anything was possible on that stage, it also seemed possible that at any moment something could go terribly wrong (which is the beauty of any great rock show really). I continually waited for Dadone to clock Doris Cellar with his guitar as he spun. At one point, Cellar's harmonium (which for the record had a Metro pass on the side of it) fell to the floor from the stool it was so delicately balanced upon... while she played bass. To say the small stage presented logistical problems would be an understatement. And yet the band reveled in it.
But the music. Oh the music. It's amazing how much stylistic ground this band covers. In the live show, Doris Cellar is key. Like everyone in the band, she's very versatile. But her vocals on "We Could Be Friends" made the song special for me. While that song was carried by bass, "Location" featured acoustic guitar and electronic elements up front and it felt like something straight out of the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense film. Meanwhile, xylophone gave "Generator First Floor" an almost dreamlike feel.
However, the best reaction of the night was saved for "Hannah." The biggest single for the band off of their Weathervanes album, the song features the closest they have come to a catchy hook with it's synthesizer leading the charge in place of guitar until the chorus... and in the live setting the band cooked up a nice head of steam and really had it cooking.
On a night dedicated to raising money in support of Rock For Kids, it was appropriate to see a band onstage so clearly dedicated to playing music for the long haul, not just for immediate crossover success. You really need to see a band like Freelance Whales live to fully appreciate just what they are capable of.