Chicago is a special place to see a show.
I lived in Peoria for six years, and even though they had a solid venue that brought great acts in The Madison at the time (I saw Bela Fleck and 311, summer of 2002), it didn’t have the same vibe. It was a party, for sure, but when young bands come to Chicago, they know they have to bring whatever it is that they stand for. Hard.
On Saturday, Grouplove and Reptar came to play for the Chi-city kids. The kids do love Grouplove (and Reptar. I’m so proud). And Grouplove and Reptar brought it hard.
I joked to L. that one good thing about seeing a band that only has one LP is you know they’re going to play the music you like.
Beyond that, knowing Grouplove’s wild backstory and that both these bands just released energetic debut albums, I had a feeling this would be a special show, filled with all the optimism of watching baby birds take flight.
But these bands already have swagger and energy that will stick with you.
The Metro is one of my favorite venues in the city – the sound is great, the view is good from wherever and there is always a bar or hip waitress nearby. Saturday me and L. got spots in the balcony right on the railing (hey, I’m 30 and the last time we moshed, Joby wound up with a swollen ear the day before his wedding). The place was packed and alive.
The show started at 7:59 – one minute early. Everybody eager to go…
It’s probably fact that even the band playing as the Titanic went down was shouting to the crowd, “This is our favorite place to play!” But as the crowd cheered wildly after every single Reptar song, you could tell that Chicago was hip to them and they appreciated it. Grouplove went on to say that this was their biggest headlining show to date (when I looked at their schedule a month ago there were two shows sold out – their homebase L.A. and Chicago).
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an opening band rev up a crowd like Reptar did (maybe since digging Michael Franti open for 311 over a decade ago at the Rosemont Horizon). You could immediately see Reptar’s origins as a backyard dance party band as they two-stepped and robot-ed their way through songs. They added plenty of extended jamming to their already-recognizable Vampire Weekend/MGMT/’80s vibe (their full album Body Faucet is on YouTube, btw).
Capping the look (somebody somewhere took a photo. Go use Google) was the lead guitarist's shimmery, “flying-v” guitar with a dancing flower sprung from the pegs.
After their set I was almost worried (for less time than it takes to regret eating a White Castle “breakfast slider”) that those guys would be the highlight, but Grouplove, too, blew away already-high expectations. Their set can only be described by exclaimed curse words, head shaking and an imaginary tear mopped away.
There is a lot I cannot reveal about the show they put on – if you dig the album at all you need to see this band.
On stage, Grouplove jumped and bopped so wildly we feared bandleaders Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper might slam heads at some point, but their loving-couple energy on stage is palpable. You get the sense that they recognize each others’ dancing like experienced jammers move between keys.
I love watching people play who obviously LOVE playing. Grouplove obviously dig playing their own music night-after-night, and would most likely be the people at your party jumping and dancing with guitars and a boombox if they didn’t have a show to do. (They also love doing it together (Each member has the band name tattooed on their forearm).)
Grouplove played all their songs except for two (“Getaway Car” and “Get Giddy” from the EP) plus a surprise cover. The music translates so well live, with all the clapping breaks, rushing jams and sing-along choruses. The kids were jumping, dancing and shouting to more than just “Tongue Tied.”
(Honestly: I haven’t been this proud of the Chicago youth since watching our town’s hockey knowledge go from “What is icing?” to “Clear the damn crease, a**hole!” during the Blackhawks’ legendary Cup run.)
They are even surrounding themselves with their own style – Hannah Hooper, a painter/doodler/etc. (who also designs the album covers) had obviously designed the show’s backdrop. L. noted that she was cutely (and a bit hilariously) sporting a swimsuit under what resembled a vintage, see-through wedding dress.
Also growing from the show is a new level of respect for drummer Ryan Rabin – who was sporting a Yes tank top (his dad’s band) and long-underwear for pants. Dude hits everything in front of him with unique vigor, propelling the ups and downs of Grouplove’s vibrant music. He and bassist Sean Gadd round out a rhythm section as critical to the sound of the alt-rock band as Flea to RHCP or Chad Sexton to 311 – without them, things would be radically different (if not impossible).
Christian’s voice has to be seen. You can hear it on the record, but you need to SEE this force presented before you (it's the difference between hearing about tornadoes and living through one). It immediately fills a room like a siren, cutting through all the joy and pain of being human like a screaming hippie chorus of Dave Grohls.
It’s fun to see all four front-members of the band sing, too, including guitarist Andrew Wessen, who picked up a mandolin and blasted the band through “Spun,” Gadd doing “Chloe” and Hannah taking lead on “Slowly” and “Love Will Save Your Soul.” You get the impression that any one of these cats could lead a pretty impressive band. But their voices and styles fit together so well it makes something explosive, beautiful, charming and excitingly memorable.
It isn't necessary to review tunes that were highlights. If you like the song, it was a highlight. Every second of energy on Never Trust A Happy Song is real.
Zucconi has said in an interview that Grouplove’s sound is “Best friends skydiving.”
Witnessing it for the first time was similarly life-altering.