Concert Review: Taste of Chicago - Death Cab for Cutie, Calexico and Kids These Days - Thursday, 7/12/12

Concert Review: Taste of Chicago - Death Cab for Cutie, Calexico and Kids These Days - Thursday, 7/12/12

A solid Thursday afternoon of live music at The Taste as Kids These Days headlined the Bud Light Stage early before a WXRT concert featuring the stylings of Calexico and Death Cab for Cutie at Petrillo Music Shell...

Much has been made of the newly formatted and slightly scaled down Taste of Chicago.

While the crowd felt a bit light when I arrived shortly after 4PM on Thursday, it nevertheless filled nicely by the time Death Cab for Cutie took the stage at Petrillo Music Shell just after 6:45PM.  Amidst reports of light sales in the city's initial foray into charging for Petrillo seats at Taste concerts, it's worth noting that only scattered open seats remained by show time on Thursday.  In fact, unlike several Taste shows I took in last summer, this show also featured a pretty healthy crowd out on the still free of charge lawn.

And credit the city for strong bookings this summer on the Bud Light Stage.  Not content to rely solely on the cover bands one can see just about every summer weekend across the street festival circuit, the city dug deep into the local music scene presenting an eclectic mix of outstanding artists highlighted by "picks" from local clubs like Bottom Lounge, Schubas, Joe's Bar and Beat Kitchen.  It's been a pleasant change of late to see the city finally start to embrace both the clubs and artists that put Chicago's music scene on par with the likes of Nashville, Memphis, Austin and New Orleans.

Still to come this weekend at the Bud Light Stage are headlining slots featuring the countrified punk stomp of the Waco Brothers (covering Johnny Cash) and both the wit and songwriting of troubador Robbie Fulks (covering Lynyrd Skynyrd) on Saturday.

But on Thursday night the Bud Light Stage belonged to local rap/jazz/funk/rock outfit Kids These Days (and how I do not envy Mucca Pazza who had to follow their act Thursday night) while Petrillo Bandshell belonged to Calexico and Death Cab for Cutie in the 25th year of WXRT's free Taste of Chicago concerts.

When all was said and done Thursday, I had more fun watching live music at The Taste then I have in years.  So say what you want about the diminshed number of restaurants present at this year's fest, but, overall, the live music hasn't been better in quite some time.

Kids These Days

Kids These Days - This was hands down the most fun I've had at a concert in 2012.

The audience was immense and no amount of sun could damper their spirit.  This crowd was insane as it jumped, hands in the air, for nearly the duration of the show.  Fans chanted at the band between every song.  They serenaded keyboardist/vocalist Macie Stewart with a chant of her own when she moved from behind the keys to the front of the stage for her solo turn.  They sang along frequently despite the fact that the band's debut, full length album Traphouse Rock doesn't see official release until September.

I haven't seen Kids These Days since the Hideout Block Party last September (a set I placed in my best of 2011).  And I can't believe how much tighter they've gotten since then.  The band has toured relentlessly, jamming with artists like Trombone Shorty, George Clinton and Kid Cudi along the way.  They've recorded at the Wilco loft with Jeff Tweedy.  All of that has turned them into a lethal live act.

The way they meld so many different musical styles seamlessly is impressive enough.  But the way they pull that off live with a brass section, three vocalists, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums that never end up getting in each other's way is beyond their years.  I heard everything from Outkast in the horns to Nirvana guitar licks on Thursday.

I wish I took more specific notes... but I was simply having too much fun.

Photo of Calexico by Aubrey Edwards
Photo of Calexico by Aubrey Edwards

Calexico - I've heard so many great things about Calexico's live set over the years so I was excited to finally see them perform.

So many bands boast of their "unique" sound but combining elements of alternative, country and even Tejano, Calexico can feel free to boast.

Guitarist/lead vocalist, Joey Burns talked up the band's ability to make a cover song their own before launching into a horn and pedal steel fueled rendition of The Minutemen's "Corona."  The band's horn section also lent itself extremely well to a cover of the 1967 Love classic "Alone Again Or."  Second to last in the set, impassioned vocals and the aforementioned horns upped the pace as the show headed toward the finish line, closing out the 45 minute set with "Crystal Frontier."

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie - Following an introduction from WXRT DJ Lin Brehmer, Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard took the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar, opening the show (which was also being broadcast live to the masses on the radio and online) with a solo rendition of "I Will Follow You Into the Dark."  What impresses me a lot about seeing Death Cab is just how good Ben Gibbard sounds live.  This isn't to say that most singers sound bad live, it's simply meant to illustrate the fact that Gibbard sounds virtually identical to the way he does on the band's recordings.  It's clear once you hear him live that no studio trickery is necessary to enhance his recorded vocals.  He sounds that good.

As the rest of the band joined him, Gibbard laid his guitar down on the stage opting instead for keyboard on "I Will Possess Your Heart" and it was clear early that on this night the band was far more loose, relaxed and playful than they were when backed by the Magik*Magik Orchestra in April for two shows at the Chicago Theatre.  Gibbard frequently turned to jam with his bandmates in what, despite a scripted set, certainly appeared to be far more impulsive than anything that took place onstage in April.  The hits continued early as the band moved onto "Crooked Teeth."

But my favorite 1-2 punch of the night came as the band moved from last year's "You are a Tourist" to 2001's "A Movie Script Ending."  A rumbling bassline on the former with a guitar riff that manages to cut through it all really reminded me of The Cure in the live setting.  Call and response lyrics between band and audience marked the latter.

The show continued to pick up steam from there finishing the 75 minute set with "Cath" (which was dedicated to Calexico), "Soul Meets Body" and one of the highlights of 2003's Transatlanticism album in a searing rendition of "The New Year."

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    Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday nights at 6PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS and AM 1060 WHFB (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet). Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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