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Tomorrow Never Knows 2014: Top 13 Sets + Photos

on January 21, 2014, 9:00am
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Summer festivals might grab all the headlines, but it’s the winter fests where you feel the greatest sense of camaraderie with fellow concert-goers. There’s something special about trudging through three inches of snow long after the sun has sunk to thaw out your soul with other Vitamin D-deprived music fans. At Chicago’s Tomorrow Never Knows, hundreds of midwesterners congregated for what was, for most of us, our very first fest of the year. While the venues ranged in size from tiny to intimate, the crowds were among the friendliest and liveliest I’d ever been part of. We survived the polar vortex, we were stir-crazy, we were ready to thrash it out to goofball punk, bask in mellow indie folk, and vibe out of our minds on deep space techno jazz.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Consequence of Sound trekked out to a variety of eclectic sets at some of the city’s best spots to find that even in this dead midwestern freeze, Chicago shows up.

Polar Vortex Prize

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Photo by Pat Levy

Cayucas

On Wednesday, Cayucas kicked off the five day festival with a breezy headlining set at Lincoln Hall. Formerly known as Oregon Bike Trails, the California four-piece’s debut Bigfoot is a prime example of a summer album, with sunny singles “Cayucos”, “A Summer Thing”, and the excellent “High School Lover” making the rounds on various car commercials and NBC dramas.

As if to almost taunt the frozen Chicago audience, Cayucas came onstage to the sound of waves crashing, bringing home the fun—if somewhat cruel this time of year— “let’s go to the beach” sentiment that pervades so much of Bigfoot. Midway through the show, lead singer Zach Yudin said, “This is the coldest weather we’ve been in” and thinking he’d have to pack sweaters instead of coats which received exasperated shouts of “come on, dude” from the audience.

Because Bigfoot only had eight songs and most economically clock in under four minutes, the set was short, ending after 45 minutes. The band debuted two new songs, the hooky  “Hella”, and the island-tinged “Dancing On The Blue Lagoon”, which Yudin self-mockingly joked “wasn’t a Vampire Weekend cover.” Despite the set’s brevity, Cayucas was a lighthearted way to start the festival.

Josh Terry

Bad Acid Award

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Oneohtrix Point Never

Since the release of R Plus Seven, Daniel Lopatin has performed with new confidence. On the album’s promo tour, he melted down its songs nearly beyond recognition only to grow them back up into blinding, explosive mutations of their former selves. His Frankenstein maneuvers are always accompanied by the animations of Nate Boyce, a sculptor and 3D visual artist who crafts hellscapes as readily as Lopatin whips up clusters of melody. Boyce triggered his projection loops in real time as Lopatin played at Lincoln Hall, highlighting the unsettling edges of Oneohtrix Point Never‘s newest music. The visuals looked like someone puked up a half-digested Sims house, or like a trip you’d have while watching early CGI TV shows.

While songs like “Boring Angel” and “Chrome Country” rushed with plenty of fresh adrenaline in Lopatin’s live set, he also wove some brand new material in between the album cuts. In the middle of the set, an irradiated techno beat pulsed out from his rig; at the encore, he traced a gentler figure to the finish. Both songs sounded like some of the most concrete electronic music Oneohtrix Point Never has ever composed. I mean, I think there was an entire minute in which to count beats. Oneohtrix Point Never might actually play in a place where people dance someday.

Sasha Geffen

Fog Machine MVP

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Photo by Pat Levy

Mutual Benefit

When you think of groups suited to copious amounts of fog, chances are Mutual Benefit is not one of them. To be fair, it was Lincoln Hall’s decision to douse the newcomers’ exceptional set in a cloud of smoke. Frontman Jordan Lee meekly joked about the smoke in between revamped versiona of tunes from his brilliant debut Love’s Crushing Diamond. While the album tracks were delicate, ornate, and orchestral, the live versions took a band-driven approach with standard rock drums and somewhat distorted guitars, giving sweet songs like “Golden Wake” and “Let’s Play / Statue Of A Man” a powerful edge.

Josh Terry

Best Fleetwood Mac Tribute

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Photo by Pat Levy

Kopecky Family Band

While Kopecky Family Band may not actually be related, they have tangible chemistry on stage. As founding member Kelsey Kopecky joked, “[they] might as well be related.” With that spark, they make their own electric brand of folk-rock with interplaying male/female vocalists and multiple percussionists. Coming in before anyone thought, “hey, these guys kinda sound like Fleetwood Mac”, the Nashville-based band dove into a raucous cover of “Tusk”. Their irresistibly likable rendition of the 1979 classic was the highlight of the set, complete with the audience clapping along right before a stellar trombone solo.

Josh Terry

Keep Playing the New Stuff

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Photo by Pat Levy

The Rural Alberta Advantage

Though The Rural Alberta Advantage’s last album, Departing, was only released in 2012, it seems like it came out a decade ago. Luckily for fans of the group at the sold-out show at Lincoln Hall, the Canadian three-piece decided to use their headlining set to showcase new material that will be on their upcoming album. Peppering in the new tracks alongside favorites like “In The Summer Time” and “Don’t Haunt This Place”, the newer material hardly seemed out of place and equal to, if not better than, their previous offerings. Only hitting the road for a week or two, the band plans to head back to Toronto to record. Given how completely fresh and revitalized they sounded, and with the stellar songs, this upcoming album should be fantastic.

Josh Terry

Number One Techno Jazz Bromance

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Darkside

Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington share a gaze that I’ve only ever seen between professional jazz musicians. They lock eyes with the kind of intensity that could kill hobby musicians. Even when each is absorbed in his own playing, their music throbs like a single gaseous organism. Their debut LP Psychic may have been an elegant tangle of loose guitar and tight beats on its own, but when these two perform live as Darkside, they are locked in beyond recognition. Darkside live sounds nothing like Darkside in the studio. Darkside live doesn’t even belong to Earth’s atmosphere.

With a hyperactive fog machine and a circular mirror hanging in the middle of the stage, Darkside created theatrics to match their sound for the Metro’s sold-out crowd. Orange lights hit the air like flame as Jaar’s beats pounded out—and when he swung that knob up, this was not minimal, this was not intellectual, this was just techno. This was some 5 am Berlin shit, nothing brainy about it—Darkside was all body down to the bone.

Sasha Geffen

Seeing Double Award

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Jason Narducy (Split Single, Superchunk)

Chicago-based musician Jason Narducy pulled double duty Saturday at the Metro for Tomorrow Never Knows. His band, Split Single, opened for Superchunk, which now features Narducy filling in at bass for hypercausis-suffering Laura Ballance. While Ballance is obviously missed, Narducy matched the energy of his Split Single performance, giving his all for both sets and not showing a bit of fatigue from having to be on stage twice and play Superchunk bangers like “Hyper Enough” and “Precision Auto”. With Split Single, he rolled through songs he originally recorded with Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Superchunk’s own Jon Wurster, “Fragmented World”, and “Last Goodbye”. Though Narducy will be touring with both Superchunk and Bob Mould, expect to see more of Split Single this year.

Josh Terry

Tough Crowd Award

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Roomrunner

Baltimore-based noise rockers Roomrunner followed Split Single with a boisterous, loud, and abrasive set on Saturday. Unfortunately, their rush of intensity was met by a few drunken patrons at the Metro. A handful of hecklers waiting to see Superchunk called out half-baked pot-shots at the lead singer’s striped t-shirt while a few called out for “Free Bird” (can we officially retire this already?). Fortunately, the band seemed only a tiny bit exasperated, taking the drunk fans in stride, and continuing to blast away through cuts off Ideal Cities.

Josh Terry

The Benjamin Button Award

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Superchunk

Superchunk are no strangers to the Metro. They first played the Chicago venue in 1991 to open up for Mudhoney and later to support Teenage Fanclub in 1992. Fast forward to 2014 and the North Carolina mainstays are still putting on sets that are raw, blistering, and youthfully exciting. Storming through discography-spanning singles like “Hyper Enough”, “Driveway to Driveway”, “Crossed Wires”, and “Detroit Has A Skyline”, Superchunk closed the set with the pounding “Precision Auto”. The constant jumping around, hamming it up, and windmill guitar showmanship from Mac McCaughan makes it easy to expect another 25 years from the band.

Josh Terry

‘Nailed It’ Newcomers

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Photo by Kris Lenz

San Fermin

Founded by young composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin answers the unasked question, “what would it sound like if a contemporary composer penned a pop concept album?” Their Tomorrow Never Knows set was nothing less than exquisite, and the humble, intimate confines of Schubas served as the best possible venue. San Fermin played their record in order, only leaving out some instrumental interludes. It is, perhaps, no accident that the album is structured in a way that lends itself perfectly to performance. It opens with “Renaissance,” a slow burner that lays the foundation for what is to come. Lead single “Sonsick” bats cleanup and got the crowd frothing behind Jess Wolfe’s incredible vocal performance. And album closer “Daedelus (What We Have)” builds to a cathartic, purifying crescendo. As a special treat, San Fermin encored with a cover of The Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage,” featuring a very winded bari-sax player shredding the guitar line.

Though there were so many stunning individual performances it was difficult to isolate any one, I would be remiss not to herald the one-two-punch of Allen Tate and Jess Wolfe. Tate’s deep, mannered baritone was consistent and striking in its careful phrasing, providing a solid foundation for Wolfe’s soaring vocal acrobatics. On “Sonsick,” an entirely different experience live, she hit every note with gusto, stretching her lungs with ease and earning an unironic “nailed it!” from the crowd. Throughout the show, the two took turns leading songs and backing each other up. Their dynamic, for its hot-cold peaks and valleys, is remarkably well balanced and perhaps the greatest achievement of this project.

Ellis Ludwig-Leone accompanied his project and I couldn’t help but notice genuine, beaming pride as he watched it all come to life. The crowd at Schubas was respectfully quiet during torch-song “Methusaleh”, and appropriately riotous during and after the rocking “Torero”. Tate, Wolfe, and Ludwig-Leone seemed almost embarrassed by the audience’s adoration after each song, as if unused to such accolades. If the group continues to tour, they will surely become more accustomed to such hard-earned outpourings of emotion.

Kris Lenz

Nice Save

alvvays Tomorrow Never Knows 2014: Top 13 Sets + Photos

Photo by Sasha Geffen

Alvvays

Canadian newcomers Alvvays kicked off Sunday night with a dreamy, glistening, and way-too-short set full of tunes off their forthcoming LP. Fronted by Molly Rankin, the band showcased their ear for decadent and lush melodies, going through future hits like “Adult Diversions” and “Archie, Marry Me”. However, towards the beginning of the set, the lead guitarist’s strap kept coming off, causing the poor guy to awkwardly hold it while playing a fast-paced riff. Eventually, he resigned and had to sit down but all without missing a single note. Fortunately after a couple more songs, he got the persnickety strap to work. Despite that small but endearing slip-up, the rest of the set went without a hitch.

Josh Terry

Guitar Heroes

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Diarrhea Planet

Though I’ve always thought bands with more than two guitarists were a bit excessive, Diarrhea Planet thrives on that excess and we’re all better for it. The Nashville-based band features four (4!) guitarists and approaches pop-punk guitar music with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. Think KISS, Thin Lizzy, and Van Halen’s hedonistic guitar heroics and match that with a punk attitude for undoubtedly one of the most fun concert experiences around. Everyone packed into Lincoln Hall seemed to have one of the best Sunday nights in memory. To be fair, we’ve got to shout out to Lincoln Hall’s security for having to deal with innumerable (though relatively respectful) crowd-surfers.

Josh Terry

Tough Following That Act

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Yuck

Londoners Yuck deserve a lot of credit for regrouping and coming out strong after their frontman Daniel Blumberg jumped ship to form his own band. With 2013’s Glow & Behold, Yuck staked their claim as a worthwhile group even without the songwriting and vocal talents of the departed member. Following the uproarious and jovial set from Diarrhea Planet, current bandleader Max Bloom joked, “I’d hate to the the band that follows Diarrhea Planet, but in this case that’s us.” Though Yuck’s set wasn’t nearly as energetic, their shoegaze sensibilities were on full display, with Bloom’s Kevin Shields-inspired guitar playing, an impassioned cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”, and an amazing vocal turn from bassist Mariko Doi during “The Wall”. Given the quality of Glow & Behold, and the enjoyable final set of Tomorrow Never Knows, it looks like Yuck will be just fine on this new trajectory.

Josh Terry

Gallery

Photographer: Sasha Geffen

Photographer: Kris Lenz

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