Concert Reviews

Live Review: Mikal Cronin at Chicago’s The Empty Bottle (6/11)

on June 12, 2013, 3:26pm

mikal cronin zeller

I ran into a guy by the bar in the middle of the show who was shouting at his friend. He said, “I can’t tell what he’s saying but it makes me so happy and it sounds good.” This seems like both the gift and the curse of Mikal Cronin. The 27-year old has really come into his own as far as songwriting chops, eloquently laying out the uncertainties of youth that in lesser hands come across as trite and clich├ęd, but every now and then it’s still going to come across as joyous fuzz.

But then there are these moments. Moments like the first 15 seconds of “Weight”. Moments when Cronin’s voice overrides the guitars and laments, “I’ve been starting over for a long time/ I’m not ready for another day I fail at being new.” These are the moments when you realize something else is going on here. The best parts of Cronin’s music take all the angst of modern youth and distill it into something so coherent and earnest, and that mix of personal reflection, driving guitars, and universal desperation is really something to behold in person.

This seems to be the case even more so with Cronin’s latest album, the Top Star-earning MCII, which, as opposed to the themes of his debut rooted in a break-up, is logically an album focusing on picking up and starting over again. He basically treats the record, and in turn the stage, as good of a place as any to get his shit together.

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Cronin isn’t much for stage banter, but this sort of makes sense. He’s an artist who puts a whole lot into these short songs. Even the anthemic “Shout It Out” bursts at the seams with pained self-analysis. But while it’s unsettled and uncertain in nature, the song is also very much alive. And that’s the thing about Cronin’s songs that makes them so very contagious in a rock club. He’s this shy guy up there articulating these complex feelings in little bursts that build on each other, but damn is he having a hell of a time doing it once he gets going.

And once that steam builds up you can really go either way it takes you. You can close your eyes and pump your fists to the chorus (much of which definitely happened here) and just be in that happy place. Or you can ride it out with Cronin as he works out his inner-monologue through song and probably in turn find a lot of yourself in there.

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“My main mission statement is to keep it honest but also find the universal aspect,” Cronin told CoS in an interview last month. “Maybe the best thing in the world is finding a way to connect people with music in the same way I connected with music. It’s a good feeling.” This connection seems palpable in person. There was less moshing than could often be found in music with these racing guitar breakdowns, but there was a sort of reverence there in place of the rowdiness, which makes sense given the growing level of acoustic introspection present on this album.

Lines like “I’m pretty good at making things harder to see/ And turning problems back to me/ It’s not the way I want to be” really get at this universality Cronin was getting at. He’s self-aware and a little bit self-deprecating and he’s putting himself out there in a way that makes it pretty hard not to root for him. Considering he managed to take all that vague angst that comes with being 27 and turn it into these very thought out beautiful songs, well, then perhaps he’s going to be alright.

For his encore, Cronin offered his rendition of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” and he just wailed on it and suddenly I didn’t have to over-think anything. The guy at the bar was very right in his own way. It did sound good. It made me happy. And it’s hard to think of many better backdrops to drink a cheap beer over than these songs.

Photography by Ryan Zeller.

Setlist:
Is It Alright
Situation
Apathy
Am I Wrong
You Gotta Have Someone
Get Along
Weight
See It My Way
Shout It Out
Again & Again
Change
Green & Blue
Gone
Encore:
Whole Wide World

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